US Rep. Veronica Escobar decries 'more of the same' from Republicans on immigration

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U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said inaction by Republicans in Congress is standing in the way of solving problems along the border.

During a news briefing Thursday morning, Escobar said she is "extremely frustrated" with "more of the same" from her Republican House colleagues.

"I wish there was more courage in Washington, D.C., to do the right thing and alleviate our border and stress in El Paso," Escobar said. "I'm going to keep working on it."

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, speaks before the unveiling of the sculpture “Benito Juárez: Child to Man” at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso on Sept. 25.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, speaks before the unveiling of the sculpture “Benito Juárez: Child to Man” at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso on Sept. 25.

Even legislative action like a legal pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, which Escobar called "low-hanging fruit," has proven difficult due to Republicans' refusal to compromise on immigration reform, the congresswoman stated.

"The most frustrating component of this to me is Congress' refusal to act on (immigration) solutions," Escobar said. "We need to work on legal pathways. ... We have a labor shortage and that can be addressed with legal migration. But when we shut down legal migration ... we hamstring an administration, and there's disorder at the border."

The road ahead will only get rockier as Republicans claim the majority in the new Congress.

Escobar said that a draft immigration plan from U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is a contender for speaker of the House, will allow for jailing children, cause overcrowded facilities, erode legal processes and further privatize migrant detention

"Which is exactly what's causing our problems at the border," Escobar said.

Working to speed FEMA reimbursements to El Paso

Venezuelan migrants cross the U.S. border at El Paso, carrying their national flag on Oct. 31.
Venezuelan migrants cross the U.S. border at El Paso, carrying their national flag on Oct. 31.

A large part of the conversation currently swirling around immigration concerns the end of Title 42, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention policy used by former U.S. President Donald Trump to quickly expel asylum-seekers crossing the border during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Expulsions under the policy were deemed a violation of federal law in late November and are set to expire Dec. 21.

But U.S. President Joe Biden is appealing the November ruling in an effort to curb the dramatic increase in border crossings the policy's expiration is expected to cause.

"The government respectfully disagrees with this Court’s decision and would argue on appeal, as it has argued in this Court, that CDC’s Title 42 Orders were lawful ... and that this Court erred in vacating those agency actions," administration officials stated in a notice filed Wednesday.

For her part, Escobar stated Thursday that she had not yet read the administration's Title 42 filing but praised the administration and the Federal Emergency Management Administration for being quick to respond to the "enormous humanitarian challenges that come with increasing numbers" at the border.

And although she is "working hard" to speed up FEMA's lagging reimbursement process for El Paso, which has so far not been reimbursed for millions of dollars in third and fourth quarter expenses related to the ongoing migrant crisis, she praised the agency for its ongoing support and noted that the Biden's administration has been the first to offer funding to support communities dealing with the national issue.

Escobar said she is in "long, ongoing conversations" with FEMA and the White House and she is working to secure more upfront funding for the city but needs a more detailed plan for the money from city officials. She said that advanced funding received by the county was due to its submission of a "great plan" and details.

Escobar: Passage of defense act has 'big wins' for El Paso

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which Escobar said contains "big wins" for Fort Bliss and El Paso's colonias.

The act, which now goes before the Senate for approval, includes $15 million for the construction of a new fire station on Fort Bliss, as well as a 4.6% pay raise for service members.

“I am so proud of this final package that strengthens our national security, prioritizes our servicemembers, and modernizes key facets of our Armed Forces,” Escobar said in a news release following passage of the act. “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the sole representative for Fort Bliss in Congress, I’m thrilled to see the investments coming home to our community.

The congresswoman said the funding for water projects in the colonias will be “really spectacular and wonderful for our community," noting that many people living in the colonias have "waited generations to stop living in Third World-like conditions.”

The bill includes $500 million in funding for water and wastewater projects over the next five years through the Wastewater Assistance to Colonias program. The act additionally includes language authorizing a flood risk management study for El Paso County's economically disadvantaged communities.

“The NDAA will help unleash a lot more funding for wastewater that El Paso County and others will be able to tap into,” Escobar said.

She also celebrated Senate approval of former El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza's nomination to serve as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. He now awaits Biden's signature before officially taking office.

Escobar hailed Esparza as someone who "knows our community and our region very well" and called his Senate confirmation the “end of a long journey, but it is really impressive to have an El Pasoan at that level of the administration."

Referencing Gabe Camarillo, an El Paso native and who now is undersecretary of the U.S. Army, Escobar vowed to "continue to look to uplift El Pasoans."

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Escobar: Republican inaction stands in way of solving border problems