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Veronica Escobar talks Biden immigration policy, LGBTQ asylum seekers

Texas Democrat represents border city of El Paso

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U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) leads a congressional delegation to the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, on March 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Escobar’s office)

WASHINGTON — Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar on Thursday said LGBTQ asylum seekers are among those who should be able to pursue their cases outside of detention.

“We need to use alternatives to detention far more robustly and we need to stop growing detention space,” Escobar told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “We need to stop growing ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) personnel. We need to put all of that on pause and put resources and energy into alternatives to detention and legal pathways and reenvisioning our refugee and asylum system.”

Escobar represents Texas’ 16th Congressional District that includes El Paso, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México, on July 15, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Texas Democrat said she supports the closure of private ICE detention centers that include the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., from which Johana “Joa” Medina León, a transgender woman with HIV from El Salvador, was released days before she died at an El Paso hospital on June 1, 2019.

“I’ve sounded the alarm and written letters,” Escobar told the Blade, noting she has expressed concern about the treatment of LGBTQ detainees in ICE custody. “I am calling for shutting down private facilities like Otero, but to be honest our government-run facilities are not a whole lot better. They are better in some respects, but they’re not in other respects.”

Escobar said she would like the U.S. to create “a system where vulnerable populations are not in this kind of custody at all.”

“They are in our custody through what is very similar to a criminal justice process. That is a fundamental problem,” she told the Blade. “I think we can try to spend time and energy reforming the way vulnerable populations are dealt with in custody or my preference is to advocate so that they are not in criminal-like custody at all.”

“There has to be a hybrid approach, a new way to approach populations that should be treated with a humanitarian component instead of a criminal component or viewed through a humanitarian lens instead of through a criminal lens,” added Escobar. “I want our law enforcement to focus on criminal activity and bad actors, but someone vulnerable seeking asylum should not be treated in the same away as a drug trafficker, part of a sophisticated criminal organization that poses a major threat to our homeland. There’s no way that we should be treating these two populations the same way, but that’s what’s been happening ever since the Clinton era and so it’s going to take a lot of unwinding of that and I want to get those ideas into the public dialogue. I want to push a complete revamping of the system and a reenvisioning of how we address vulnerable populations who arrive at our front door.”

Escobar said she does not support the abolition of ICE, noting it “performs important functions.”

“I am not a believer of abolishing police,” she said. “They serve a very important critical function, but I am a fan of and what I am pushing for is taking certain populations out of their custody and out of their purview.”

Escobar said she wants to “see people who are actual criminals and who do pose a threat to our communities deported” and ICE “performs that function.”

“The problem is we’ve criminalized everybody arriving at our front door,” she told the Blade. “That lens of criminality began with the Clinton administration and it’s been expanded year after year after year and so it’s going to take a lot of work to unwind it, but I’m committed to that.”

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a transgender woman with HIV from El Salvador, died on June 1, 2019, at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

Escobar spoke with the Blade less than two months after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who the previous White House forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have entered the U.S. since President Biden took office. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

“We are still as a government using Title 42 to expel families,” Escobar told the Blade. “And because the expulsions are completely dependent upon Mexico’s collaboration, whenever Mexico makes the determination that they can’t take more families, families are being flown across the state or sometimes across the country, to be expelled in other Mexican countries.”

Escobar cited reports from lawyers and immigrant advocacy groups that Title 42 expulsions are “being handled in a really terrible away, that in fact agents are not informing families of what’s happening to them, and it’s led to just really traumatic experiences for vulnerable populations.”

“We continue to see policies that were initiated by the Trump administration and they are heartbreaking situations for everybody involved, but especially for the migrants,” she said.

Escobar noted the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody have “drastically reduced,” but the number of them who are in the care of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “have grown.”

“HHS is doing a remarkable job given the situation to get children as quickly as they can out of their custody and into the arms of their family members,” she said. “They have had very little time to ramp up. They have had a staff shortage, a facility shortage, a tragic lack of preparation that should have been initiated by the Trump administration, so they inherited little to nothing, so they’ve been doing the best they can.”

“I am so glad though that kids are being taken out of CBP custody,” added Escobar. “Kids and vulnerable populations shouldn’t be in CBP custody at all.”

Addressing root migration causes will ‘be tough’

Biden has charged Vice President Harris with the task of working with countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — to address some of the root causes of migration that include violence, poverty and climate change.

“We can’t address root causes without providing people with more legal pathways,” Escobar told the Blade. “Part of what fuels migrants making the treacherous journey and what forces them to go to banks to take out loans to pay human traffickers is the lack of access to a legal pathway.”

She further acknowledged there is “not one policy approach that will be the cure all.”

“We do have to look at this very clear-eyed and understand that some of the very governments that (Harris)’s going to have to work with are complicit in what’s been happening and have allowed criminal organizations to operate with impunity,” said Escobar. “Some have had family members who have participated as well, and then there will need to be a multifaceted approach on that front, as well, so there will have to be a carrot and a stick approach.”

Escobar told the Blade there should be a “robust collaboration and support that should flow to” non-government organizations “that we trust and that will be transparent with us and what will work closely with us.” Escobar added sanctions that include travel ban and freezing assets could also be used to hold individuals accountable for human rights violations in the region.

“The criminal organizations that have thrived, especially over the last four years, and have indeed gotten more sophisticated over the last four years, have operated with impunity in these governments and the United States has to work with these governments,” she said. “We have to be good neighbors, strong neighbors, but we have to be neighbors that also create accountability and create an environment where there are consequences for being complicit with bad actors or criminal organizations.”

“It’s going to be tough,” added Escobar. “Do I think it’s doable? 100 percent. Will it happen overnight? Absolutely not, but it’s long overdue.”

A group of migrants who were part of a caravan that left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Jan. 14, 2019. (Photo used with permission)

Escobar not invited to participate in GOP trip to El Paso

Escobar on March 27 led a group of eight House members — seven Democrats and one Republican — to El Paso.

The lawmakers met with immigration activists and representatives of local NGOs. The delegation also visited the Paso del Norte Port of Entry; CBP’s El Paso Central Processing Center; Casa Franklin, an HHS facility for unaccompanied children, and Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is among those who has sharply criticized Biden for beginning the process to reverse his predecessor’s hardline immigration policies.

McCarthy and 12 other House Republicans on March 15 visited El Paso. McCarthy did not invite Escobar to participate; even though she reached out to him once she learned about the trip and offered to help set up meetings with lawyers, activists, business owners and others.

“As you prepare to come into my district, I would like to remind you that you are visiting a community that has always welcomed the stranger and has provided good will and hospitality to the most vulnerable among us,” wrote Escobar in a letter she sent to McCarthy on March 11. “Over the last four years, as the former President used increasingly racist and xenophobic language that dehumanized immigrants, we learned the painful lesson that those words have consequences.”

Escobar said “a target was painted on our backs as Donald Trump and many of our own colleagues in Congress chose to fan the flames of anti-immigrant fervor and incite hatred towards our safe and secure border.” She further noted in a letter “a domestic terrorist” who killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019, “confessed that he drove over 10 hours to slaughter Mexicans and immigrants in my community.”

“The words you and your delegation of members will use to describe the situation, immigrants and my community have tremendous power,” wrote Escobar. “I ask that you never lose sight of that because my district and I will ultimately pay the price.”

Escobar on Thursday noted McCarthy and the House Republicans who he brought to El Paso only met with law enforcement officials.

“It’s a real failure to look at the whole picture,” she said.

Escobar further criticized McCarthy and the group of 18 U.S. senators who “parachuted into” South Texas late last month.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) led the delegation that visited the CBP facility in the Rio Grande Valley in which thousands of unaccompanied children had been housed. A press release that Cruz’s office issued noted the Texas Department of Public Safety gave the senators “a boat tour” of the Rio Grande.

“They’ve been in Congress for a long time,” said Escobar. “Their idea of a solution is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s everybody’s definition of insanity.”

“I am going to bring forward a new way of looking at all of this and my hope is that those legislators with an open mind and want to explore new ideas will listen,” she added.

California Politics

Caitlyn Jenner: A one percenter gets one percent (actually 1.1%)

“If he doesn’t get recalled, I pity the people of California- It’s a shame, honestly you kind of get the government you deserve.”

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Screenshot via CBS Bay Area

LOS ANGELES – It was not the measured tones of a seasoned politician who had experienced the successes and failures inherent with any campaign for public office. Instead, in a speech given to a small gathering of supporters once it became clear that the recall effort against Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom had failed, reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner took to the microphone and groused.

Sounding bitter Jenner said; “He didn’t campaign on not one of his successes, because he doesn’t have any,” she said. “I can’t believe that this many people actually voted to keep him in office. It’s a shame, honestly, it’s a shame. You kind of get the government you deserve.”

Jenner’s ‘it’s a shame’ echoed remarks she had made earlier during the day Tuesday when she told right-wing media outlet Newsmax; “For me, it’s just so up in the air [with] what is going to happen,” she said. “Number one, we gotta get Gavin Newsom outta there. I think it’s going to be difficult doing that, but I’m hoping for the best […] If he doesn’t get recalled, I pity the people of California.”

In the accumulated vote count tabulations listed Wednesday evening, Jenner had placed 12th in the field of candidates after fellow Republican frontrunner, conservative right-wing radio-talk show host Larry Elder, who had garnered 2,386,710 votes and 46.92% to Jenner’s 56,016 votes and 1.1%. (72.65 % Precincts Reporting | 74% expected vote as of Sep. 15, 2021 8:48 pm)

The Newsmax host also asked if she would consider running in 2022 in the regular gubernatorial race or a potential congressional race, Jenner indicated she “would keep her options open.”

“One thing I can say is I have thoroughly enjoyed this process,” she said. “It has been uplifting, rewarding. I’m a compassionate person. I love the people. The process has been great. Once this is over with, we’re gonna evaluate, see where we’re at.”

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California Politics

Californian voters reject Republican effort to recall Newsom

A Democratic party insider source told the Blade, “Look- this recall turnout means Californians rejected Larry Elder and Trumpism”

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Governor Gavin Newsom speaking to supporters Tuesday evening Sept. 14, 2021 (Screenshot via KTLA)

LOS ANGELES – The early results of the special recall election to remove Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed that a majority of the Golden State’s voters were not inclined to oust him. With 62.17 % precincts reporting at 11:00PM Tuesday, the ‘No’ vote was 65.66% versus the ‘Yes’ vote at 34.34%.

Speaking to Californians in a broadcast in the hours after polls had closed Newsom thanked his supporters but also cautioned that while the victory retains him in office- “Trumpism is still a threat,” the governor said.

“‘No’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Newsom said. “I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state: We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic, we said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”

The driving force to the recall had been the underlying conditions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and anger over crushing job losses from business closures, shuttered schools and restrictions that kept most children out of classrooms. Rising homicides, a homelessness crisis and an unemployment fraud scandal further angered some voters particularly in Republican circles.

“Let’s be gracious in defeat. We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Newsom said, later adding that the recall has forced Democrats to focus on issues such as homelessness and California’s high cost of living.

UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times released last Friday, showed that 60.1% of likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Newsom compared with 38.5% in favor of ousting the governor.

The rise of the highly contagious delta variant had also led the governor to frame the race as one of “life or death” consequences. Newsom would point out that measures he had taken versus actions by Governor Greg Abbott in Texas and his fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis Florida, which experienced worsening surges as Abbott and DeSantis both rejected mask and vaccine mandates.

Newsom warned that if conservative talk show host Larry Elder were to take the governor’s chair, California could become as bad off as Texas and Florida as Elder has expressed his opposition to mandatory mask orders and vaccination mandates for state workers.

Polling from the Public Policy Institute of California showed Newsom’s approval rating remaining above 50% throughout the pandemic. With weeks to go, the institute’s poll showed 60% of Californians approved of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic.

In a phone interview Tuesday evening after the polls had closed and it was apparent Newsom would remain Governor, Assemblymember Evan Low, (D) who represents the 28th California Assembly District and is the Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus reflected on the results.

“I think that this shows two things- a resounding victory but also a clear rebuke of the general strategy of the GOP, ” Low said. “This is an affirmation- a yes on vaccines, a yes to addressing climate change, a yes on women’s rights and a yes to inclusiveness for LGBTQ people from the highest officeholder in the state,” he added.

“This shows that voters think the state is headed in the right direction and that they are behind having Newsom as the ‘CEO’ of the 5th largest economy in the world,” Low said.

“There is a mandate- really there’s a wide range of reasons but importantly having a pro-LGBTQ governor is critical, especially when you look at the divisiveness of the GOP and their policies,” Low told the Blade.

Rick Zbur, the outgoing Executive Director of Equality California, said in an emailed statement;

“Tonight, we have defeated the anti-LGBTQ+, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-science and anti-worker Republican Recall. We have affirmed our California values and our support for Gavin Newsom, the most pro-equality governor in California history, and his tireless efforts to build a California for all. LGBTQ+ Californians — 12% of registered voters in the Golden State — and our pro-equality allies played a decisive role in this resounding victory.

“To be clear, California has big challenges ahead of us. We need to beat this pandemic, rebuild our economy, safeguard reprodutive freedom, solve our homelessness crisis, save our planet from climate change and create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people. Governor Newsom is up for the task, and so are we. Let’s get back to work.”

A Democratic party insider source told the Blade, “Look- this recall turnout means Californians rejected Larry Elder and Trumpism. This was also a referendum on LGBTQ equality- Gavin is the most pro-LGBTQ politician- hell he ran and continues to run on LGBTQ issues, tonight voters agreed that those matter, that people matter, and that Newsom is their choice to continue to lead the state.”

Although Newsom was handed as victory of sorts, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the conservative right-wing radio host who emerged as the front runner will very much have a say as the Republican party looks to 2022.

Although the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom failed, the lightning two-month campaign appears to have had at least one clear beneficiary – Larry Elder.

The outspoken conservative talk show host is now the leader of the California Republican party, and a growing national figure. So what is next for Elder? He now has opportunities but also big challenges to broaden his appeal in a very blue state.”

The White House on Wednesday morning released a statement from President Joe Biden who had traveled to Long Beach to campaign for Newsom on Monday:

Congratulations to Governor Gavin Newsom on defeating the recall vote. This vote is a resounding win for the approach that he and I share to beating the pandemic: strong vaccine requirements, strong steps to reopen schools safely, and strong plans to distribute real medicines—not fake treatments—to help those who get sick. The fact that voters in both traditionally Democratic and traditionally Republican parts of the state rejected the recall shows that Americans are unifying behind taking these steps to get the pandemic behind us.”

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California Politics

Poll worker in West Hollywood fired after picture goes viral

Based on his response and reports that other workers had previously counseled him on this, he was released

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Picture via Twitter

WEST HOLLYWOOD – A picture of an elections poll worker in West Hollywood wearing Trump campaign apparel and a QAnon T-shirt went viral on Twitter and Facebook with hundreds of complaints about the worker’s appearance being directed at the office of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

In a tweeted response the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk stated;

The election worker was contacted and advised that the attire was inappropriate and unacceptable. Based on his response and reports that other workers had previously counseled him on this, he was released and is no longer working at the vote center.

Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Registrar-Recorder’s office, said the poll worker was initially warned against wearing political attire to the voting center on Monday, when he showed up to work wearing Trump campaign regalia, KTLA reported.

Sanchez said the clerk’s office and the supervisor at the West Hollywood polling place instructed the poll worker not to wear political attire, but the man came back Tuesday morning wearing Trump apparel.

“He was counseled and told not to wear anything political, but he still came wearing it,” Sanchez said. “Because of his response and not complying with the rules, he was released.”

California election laws prohibit what’s known as “electioneering” within 100 feet of an entrance to a polling place. That includes displaying a candidate’s name, likeness or logo, or specific references to ballot measures by number, title, subject or logo. It also includes no audible broadcasting of information about candidates or measures.

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