EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — After leading a Congressional delegation on Saturday on a tour of the El Paso Border Patrol Central Processing Center, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar said she is feeling optimistic about actionable and bipartisan steps that could be taken to address the recent surge in migrants into the United States.
“I feel hopeful for the first time in a very long time,” said Escobar following the delegation’s day of events. “If we want to change things, then we have to focus on solutions. And I’m very proud of the bipartisan delegation today focused on incredible conversations on what we can do today.”
This weekend’s visit was led by Escobar to help members of Congress see the realities that migrants are facing in the El Paso sector of the U.S.-Mexico border. The delegation included Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), and Victoria Spartz (R-IN).
Delegates met with immigration advocates and non-government organizations, then toured the El Paso Border Patrol Central Processing Center, which is a U.S. Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement facility for unaccompanied minors. Escobar said there are 1,005 unaccompanied minors currently in HHS care in El Paso.
The representatives noted the humanitarian crisis that they say is not so different from challenges faced by generations of refugees and immigrants throughout U.S. history.
“All of them seeking hope, but having made that dangerous and treacherous journey. We should be empathetic with that,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Each member of the delegation wept openly while discussing the conversations they had with unaccompanied migrant girls earlier in the day. Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez carried a small notebook that migrant girls signed their names in during the visit.
“They wanted to make sure we don’t forget them, so they wrote down their names. Names like Maria, Gabriela and Daisy,” said Leger Fernandez.
The visit comes at a time of continued confusion over whether a crisis exists at the border following claims made by a Republican-led delegation of senators to South Texas on Friday, where Sens. Ted Cruz and Susan Collins expressed outrage over the situation.
According to Cruz, their delegation saw scores of migrant women and children and were heckled by members of the cartel on the other side of the Rio Grande.
Critics were quick to point to the optics of Cruz’s delegation, who skimmed the river on a CBP speed boat armed with military-style weapons.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke joined Twitter’s battle of words about the border, calling out omitting the human element from the tour — the Republican-led delegation did not meet with any NGOs or immigration advocates — in preference of increased border security.
“You’re in a Border Patrol Boat armed with machine guns,” wrote O’Rourke. “The only threat you face is unarmed children and families who are seeking asylum (as well as the occasional heckler). If you’re looking for a crisis to cosplay Senator for, I’m happy to point you in the right direction,” he continued.
Back in El Paso, Escobar and her delegation are urging bipartisan cooperation to reach humanitarian solutions instead of implementing restrictive policies.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led a group of Congressional Republicans to El Paso recently, where he said immigration is a conversation that could be discussed and solved quickly.
But Escobar said it’s a conversation many Republicans refuse to have with Democrats.
“When I found out the minority leader was coming to El Paso, I sent him a letter and we reached out a number of times to say ‘We welcome you to El Paso and want you to see the other part of it,’” said Escobar. “He rejected that.”
Escobar and Spartz are working with Republicans to coordinate future bipartisan delegations.
“One of them has accepted my invitation,” said Escobar, “and we’re working with that.”