Texas District 16 congressional candidates share views on immigration

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Republican challengers say they support lawful immigration and have the blood ties to prove it; Democratic incumbent says hardening rules won’t solve humanitarian crisis

Haitian migrants illegally cross the Rio Bravo in an attempt to get from Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, to El Paso, Texas, on March 30, 2021. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Texas’ new congressional district maps remain under litigation, but already two Republicans have stepped up to challenge Democratic incumbent Veronica Escobar of El Paso.

Irene Armendariz-Jackson is making a second attempt at the Texas District 16 seat. She lost the Nov. 3, 2020, general election to Escobar by a 35% to 65% voting margin. Samuel Williams also ran for the seat in 2020 but lost the Republican Primary runoff to Armendariz-Jackson, by a 35% to 65% margin.

The Republicans are challenging a two-term incumbent in a district that has been sending Democrats to Congress year after year since November 1964. In her three years at the Capitol, leaders have appointed Escobar to several committees, including the Judiciary and Armed Services.

“In Washington, I’ve been working hard to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars and resources to our community,” she said, citing the Child Tax Credit and others. She’s also filed several bills that passed the House and authored pending legislation to reform U.S. immigration agencies.

But her Republican opponents say she’s failed to work with her peers on the other side of the aisle – which accounts for legislation that fails to become law. Aside from disagreements on a plethora of issues of local interest, the Democrat and the Republicans are on opposite ends of how to solve the immigration crisis that experts say figures in President Joe Biden’s falling poll numbers.

Root causes of immigration vs. “Enforce the law”

Both Williams and Armendariz-Jackson say they support lawful immigration to the United States and have the blood ties to prove it. Armendariz-Jackson brings up her Mexican immigrant parents in conversation, and Williams, who spent 30 years in the U.S. Army, talks about his wife’s efforts to legally immigrate from South Korea.

Samuel Williams

“We need legal immigration to sustain our country, immigration that gives everyone an equal chance. That’s why the system exists,” Williams told Border Report. “But we have too many people violating (the law) and it really hurts the legal immigrants coming into the United States.”

He talked about filing paperwork, paying fees and enduring long waits so his wife could be legally admitted into the country. “We should expect people to do it the right way. I think that’s the expectation of most of those who’ve come here legally … not just show up at the doorstep and say, ‘Let me in and give me everything.’ That’s not the way the world works and not how the United States works,” he said.

And, with the Mexican drug cartels and overseas smuggling organizations working together to ensure control of unauthorized migration into the United States, Williams proposes a further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We should expect people to do it the right way.” — Sam Williams
“Our border situation needs to be secure.”

“Our border situation needs to be secure. We need to vet every individual that’s coming into this country. But if they come in illegally, they need to be sent back,” Williams said. Given the cartel involvement, including recent across-the-border gunshots taken at the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso, he suggests a temporary suspension of the Posse Comitatus Act that restricts the use of soldiers to enforce domestic laws.

An issue or fairness to legal immigrants

Armendariz-Jackson’s immigration stance centers on fairness.

“How many people have migrated, including my parents, and they did it legally. Now we’re telling them that was all (for nothing)?” she said.

The Republican also talked about how law-abiding, visa-eligible individuals across the border in Juarez have had to endure a 19-month separation from their relatives in El Paso due to COVID-related non-essential travel restrictions. Meantime, thousands of families from Central America and elsewhere have come across the border since last year and allowed to stay under Title 8 immigration processing rules, many without a COVID-19 test or vaccine.

“I am not OK with illegal immigration at any level. We want to make sure we know who those people coming across the border are and that they’re going to be good. Why? Because our kids go to school. We have Bowie (High School) and Riverside (High School) right on the border. We want to protect those kids as well,” she said. “The number one priority for me is for immigration law to be enforced.”

Being cruel to migrants not a long-term answer

Escobar says she hesitates to call the migrant situation at the border a “crisis” because the word has become politically charged.

“No doubt what we have been seeing for the past several years has been heartbreaking,” Escobar said. “Part of the reason why I have resisted calling what’s happening a border crisis is because of the connotation, is if we can somehow harden or employ policies that are cruel enough at the border, this crisis somehow will go away.”

The congresswoman says she favors a more permanent, holistic approach. That includes getting the leaders of immigrant-sending nations as well as continental allies in a position to help to sit on the negotiating table.

“We have an enormous immigration challenge on our hands right now, one that will only continue to increase regardless of who is in the White House unless we do a number of things,” she said.

The first is to find out what’s sparking the migration – whether it’s crime or economics or something else. The next is to get nations involved to commit to certain obligations. Domestically, the U.S. has to open legal immigration pathways that previous presidential administrations have closed starting at the turn of the century.

“There’s folks who say, ‘if only migrants would do it the right way,’ or ‘they’ve gotta get in line.’ That shows a complete lack of understanding that, since the Clinton administration, legal pathways have shrunken and under (President) Trump some were eliminated altogether,” Escobar said.

“For many, there is no line to get into. There’s no right way to do it and this is on Congress. Congress needs to open legal pathways. The more we give people the opportunity to apply legally – and that includes asylum – the better we can manage the border.”

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