Immigration, other issues persist, but view of border distorted, Texas Tribune panelists say

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The national immigration debate has distorted the nation’s view of the border and that is likely to get worse during the presidential campaign, speakers at a Texas Tribune forum said Thursday.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be much worse,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said at the Tribune’s “Future of the Border Region” in El Paso. “A target has been put on our community by multiple elected officials, including in our own state and the president. There was a cooling off of anti-immigrant rhetoric after the Aug. 3 attack, but now it’s ramping up during the rallies.”

On Aug. 3, a gunman drove from North Texas to El Paso upset with the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and shot 22 people dead and wounded two dozen more. Some El Paso activists accused President Trump of inspiring the attack through his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

That’s not just the Democrats’ view, but one shared by some border denizens who identify with Republican Party values.

“In the past, we’ve made comments about the border being ignored, our issues misunderstood … being ignored created a perception about the reality of the border that was not the reality. That gap has been used politically starting at the state level for state races and ultimately the presidential election,” said El Paso businessman Woody Hunt.

The Tribune’s event at the University of Texas at El Paso seeks to focus not only on the issues that have put the U.S.-Mexico border on the map recently — illegal immigration, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement — but also on things imporant to those who live there. Panels throughout the day would focus on getting state resources to border cities, increasing educational attainment and boosting the economy.

Escobar says one of the border’s priorities is improving health care affordabilty and reducing the number of uninsured families. In El Paso, about a quarter of the population might be uninsured.

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith today asked Escobar is she’s for government-sponsored universal health care (the so-called Medicare for all). The congresswoman gave a weighted answer.

Saying she was both a progressive and a pragmatist, Escobar said she favored a gradual approach to universal health care.

“Being able to sustain change takes incremental change (and) avoiding year in and year out bloody battles … I’m for incremental increases or appropriation changes that will get us to where everyone in this country is covered,” she said.

But whether the immigration crisis is accurate or inflated, the fact is that it’s an issue that deeply concerns Texas. Smith mentioned a recent statewide poll showing immigration was the top concern of Texas residents.

Escobar said immigration needs to be addressed through policy, but not by “shattering” the lawful asylum process the way the Trump adminstraton has done.

The problem is that “the minute we start the conversation, people say, ‘she’s for open borders,’ cut off conversation. We have to separate threats from humanitarian crisis,” she said, noting that a mother trying to gain asylum with her young child in tow is not a national security threat.

“We treat every single immigrant as a criminal. They’ve been locked up in inhumane holding conditions in our community and other communities along the border. We have chosen to address every single immigrant as a national security threat,” she said

Hunt concurred that the path to lawful immigration reform has been blocked by partisan politics. He noted each party is trying to govern without the other, as evidenced by the Democrats passing the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and the Republicans pulling off tax reform in 2017.

“Now the Democrats will spend a good time repealing the (2017) tax cuts. That’s no way to do things,” he said.

The Central American migrant surge of last year has, for the most part, subsided and analysts credit the Trump administration’s strong-arming of Mexico into denying entry to migrant caravans as well as implementation in the United States of hardline programs that force asylum seekers to wait their turn in Mexico — and now Guatemala and other Central American countries.

Escobar said immigration reform is still paramount because even bigger migrant waves will come in the future.

“If we think mass migration is a challenge today (wait until) climate change reaches a point of no return … and we begin to see severe economic instability and severe food instability” in the rest of the world, she said. “It’s important to address these issues not just in the context of how it affects our community, but the larger context” of what’s going on in the world.

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