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Rep. Veronica Escobar Approaches Immigration Reform With Hope, Promise, and Unity

The congresswoman, a third-generation El Pasoan, says America needs to “get the undocumented out of the shadows.”

Since taking office five years ago, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar has gotten used to hearing migrants on the Texas-Mexico border being referred to in racist and xenophobic terms around Capitol Hill. To counter these mischaracterizations, Escobar has invited members of Congress to visit her hometown of El Paso, Texas. She’s brought 20 percent of the House (about 87 representatives) to her district for tours of federal immigration facilities, shelters, local government entities, and a public hospital that cares for migrants. “I wanted to ensure that people understood the border, and understood how broken our immigration system is,” she says.

In 2018, Escobar—a third-generation El Pasoan, whose family originally came from Chihuahua, Mexico—became one of the first two Latinas from Texas elected to Congress. Her path to national office followed more than a decade serving on the governing body for El Paso County, first as a county commissioner and then as county judge. Her campaign centered on the positive: hope, promise, unity, and humane border reform. After winning a second term in 2022, Escobar teamed up with Florida Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar to coauthor the groundbreaking Dignity Act of 2023, a bipartisan immigration reform bill that steers clear of harsh deterrence policies and instead emphasizes paths to citizenship, border security, and refocusing the spotlight on the migrants themselves. “We’ve got to get the undocumented out of the shadows,” Escobar says. “We have to demonstrate leadership in this difficult moment, and we have to do that while hanging onto our values.” With the 2024 presidential election less than a year away, Escobar is working to turn out Latino voters, who are now the second-fastest-growing group of voting-age Americans.

The weight of the moment, and the responsibility of her representation on a national level, is not lost on her. “It is so important to have women’s voices at the leadership table, and even more important to have Latina voices,” the congresswoman says. “We are so underrepresented in positions of power and authority and leadership. I feel that responsibility to help other Latinas achieve their dreams and goals to serve in public office. I also feel a responsibility to ensure young women in my district know that this is absolutely an option for them, and it should be something that they pursue if it’s a goal of theirs. I’m a big believer in, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’”

On representation

“I feel a responsibility to ensure that more Latinas are able to run for and serve in Congress, and also in seats up and down the ballot—whether it’s school board, city council, or state representative. At the same time, I also feel a significant responsibility to spend time with young women in my district and ensure they know that this is absolutely an option for them, and it should be something that they pursue if it’s a goal of theirs. I’m a big believer in, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’”

On being a role model

“It’s empowering and terrifying. It’s empowering, because I feel like I have the ability to show young women that they can achieve their dreams, that they can one day walk the halls of Congress, that they can one day sit at the leadership table and serve their community in the United States Capitol. But it is intimidating and slightly terrifying, because I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to disappoint people. I don’t want to let anyone down, and I don’t want young women to think it’s so hard that it’s out of bounds. So I try to be realistic when I speak, especially with young women, about the demands of the job—but also about the satisfaction that comes with it, the joy that goes hand in hand with the hard work.”

On what she hopes her legacy will be

“I hope at the end of all of [my time in Congress], that I can look back and be proud of the positive impact I’ve made on the community. I also hope at the end of my career, I can look back and see a direct impact on immigration, women’s rights, the climate crisis, and animal rights.”

On what she wishes she knew starting out

“Compromise is critical to progress. When I first got into politics, I was so rigid in terms of what I saw as the solution, what I saw as the end goal. I was kind of a purist in that respect. Anything less than what I saw as the right thing was unacceptable. As I’ve grown older, and as I’ve spent more time in politics and seen how to create true progress, it all comes within the art of the compromise. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough in this business, and it needs to happen more.”

On a mistake she learned from 

“I’m a workaholic. Something that I regret significantly is that I didn’t say no to some things. I didn’t do that early in my career when my kids were little, and I wish I had. As we try to be all things to everyone, especially women, many of the sacrifices we make are with our own family. I wish I had said no more often back then and treasured and savored some of those moments a whole lot more.”

On the best advice she's received 

“A lot of women in Congress, from the get-go, told me, ‘You need to make time for yourself.’ The challenge for a lot of women is that we are a lot of things to a lot of people: As a mom, I try my best to be there for my kids and to help and support them. Same thing as a wife. Same thing with my mom, who is 84 years old. And then I have my constituents, my staff, my team, and my campaign folks. You are always running, running, running, working, working, working. It’s easy to burn out. And you can’t be an effective legislator or leader if you’re exhausted.”

On how she practices self care

“I used to go hiking in El Paso, and I need to get back to it. Long walks for me are therapeutic, and breathing fresh air is really important to me. But also, I’m a cat lover, so cat time is important to me. There’s nothing like snuggling with a kitty.”

You can read the article on Elle's website here.

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