Transcript: Rep. Veronica Escobar On

Transcript: Rep. Veronica Escobar On

The following is a transcript of an interview with Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas that aired on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. President Biden travels to El Paso today after announcing new border enforcement actions last week. Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar will travel with the president to Texas later today. I’m so glad you could join us.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Thank you for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the president is going to visit one of the busiest ports of entry in El Paso. He’s going to meet with officials and other aid organizations. What can we do to make sure that this three hour visit is more than just a photo op?

REP. ESCOBAR: Well, we’ve worked with the White House to make sure that all the folks who are actually doing the work on the ground day to day are the ones that the president will meet with. He needs to hear about how, over time, the challenges that we have faced as a country on immigration, on border issues – they have grown exponentially. What we are seeing Margaret is an historic refugee crisis in our Western Hemisphere, and our infrastructure is outdated. Our processes are outdated, and the border has for too long been used as a political prop. We all have to come together and solve this once and for all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why aren’t there any Republicans from Congress invited to go with the president?

REP. ESCOBAR: You’d have to ask the White House that question, you know. I, I have been working very closely with the administration. I know two of my colleagues who are coming on the trip have also been working very closely with the administration. I think. From my perspective, I want to spend as much time just sharing with the president, what we’re seeing what we’ve seen since 2014, the warning signs we’ve seen since 2014, and most importantly, what we can do going forward to focus on the solutions that our country needs that border communities need and a way that we can better treat everyone in the process with dignity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So we looked at the latest CBS polling, only 38% of Americans actually approve of what the president is doing on immigration. 62% disapprove. This has consistently been one of his weakest issues. And it was just this last week, he gave his very first speech on the border policy. For the first time he’s going today. And it’s taken, what two years to find some kind of alternative to Title 42. I understand it’s going before the Supreme Court. But why is it taking so long to get just this?

REP. ESCOBAR: This challenge that we’re facing is so complex. I’m with you, I would have loved to have seen the administration lean in on immigration from day one. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why didn’t they? 

REP. ESCOBAR: Because, you know, you’d have to ask them that. I have been in Congress. I’m starting. I was just sworn in yesterday for my third term. And I’ve been working on border issues and border solutions since day one. The executive branch is not the only branch of government that needs to do its job, though. And I will tell you, I’ve worked very closely with Secretary Mayorkas. He has been phenomenal. Every idea that I have asked him to explore he has. Every collaboration I’ve asked him to engage in, he has. Where it’s been – where I’ve hit a brick wall is Congress. And frankly, Democrats and Republicans alike. I mean, last Congress, we had a majority, we passed House Democrats did pass immigration bills. We didn’t do as much as I wish we would have. But many of my colleagues felt, why are we you know, basically working on all this immigration work when we have a 50/50 Senate and no Republicans willing to work with us. I’m hoping things change. There’s a bipartisan delegation going to El Paso from the Senate tomorrow. And I hope they see what the president will see today, which is opportunity, but also long overdue work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s why I asked why the White House wasn’t including Republicans in that delegation you’re going with. Let’s talk about what the administration did just announce because it’s pretty big, this policy. They’re expanding the use of that same Title 42 policy, the pandemic era restrictions that allow for expulsion without guaranteed asylum hearings. And it’s going to allow them to dramatically step up expulsions of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, Venezuelans, they make up the majority of those crossing. You oppose Title 42. Does that mean you oppose what the Biden administration is doing?

REP. ESCOBAR: Well, it’s a complicated answer. So the – the administration in the absence of any legislation from the Congress has very few tools available. I’m a staunch opponent of Title 42. In fact, I think Title 42 is the reason why those apprehension – encounter numbers are so high because people kept trying over and over and over again. When you’re expelled from the border, you’re going to try in different areas. I think it also helped fuel the human trafficking that we’ve seen a significant increase in, and all of this started with the Trump administration. In my conversations with the Department of Homeland Security, because a Louisiana judge essentially created a situation where they have to continue to use Title 42. They can’t go to a different policy, which was used prior to Title 42 called Title Eight. Now, Title Eight is – is much more punitive. And I think that is what the Administration is ultimately going to go toward, once a judge allows the Biden administration to do away with Title 42.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Which could come in June from the Supreme Court.

REP. ESCOBAR: Could come in June, but even then, Margaret, we will not have had a legislative solution. So all of these executive branch efforts really are just temporary band-aids, whether it’s Title Eight, whether it’s Title 42, if we need to make sure that Congress acts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah, it sounds like you don’t have a lot of high hopes for that kind of action. But let me ask about the Biden policy. So it’s going to allow 30 –  up to 30,000 migrants per month from the four countries we just listed to enter if they have a US sponsor. It will also allow migrants to apply via cell phone app, something called CBP One. Does someone fleeing abject poverty really have a cell phone to apply for access? 

REP. ESCOBAR: Believe it or not most of and let me tell you, I’ve been in the immigration space for 30 years, I’ve been working on immigration, both as an advocate as a local government official, and now in Congress. I spent two weeks with migrants leading up to my trip back to DC to get sworn in, whether they were in custody or whether they were in a shelter, I had conversations. The vast majority of refugees who are fleeing their home countries do have cell phones, that’s how they communicate with one another. That’s how they communicate with their the folks at home. But I will tell you, we do need far more robust State Department involvement, especially for those who do not have access to that kind of technology. We need far greater education. Many of the refugees that I have spoken to, especially over the last couple of weeks, are – have no concept of what the asylum process is. Their idea is I’m going to go to the border, I’m going to get a job. And I’m going to help my family, something all of us would do, of course. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, whether it’s assisting those who don’t have a cell phone, access these services and legal pathways offered through CBP one, or whether it is edu-  helping to educate folks about those legal pathways so that they have a better shot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I asked you that because I know some have argued is it’s discriminatory against those who have the least. Mexico as part of this binding agreement has agreed to take about 30,000 people a month from the four countries. But one of the things that we’ve consistently heard over the past few years and  – it was a harsh criticism of the Trump administration – is that when individuals are pushed back to Mexico, and they’re awaiting some kind of action, they face a lot of violence. So if you criticize it during the Trump administration, you must be a critic during the Biden administration? 

REP. ESCOBAR: Absolutely. And that’s why I’m – I’m grateful that the president’s going to Mexico City to talk to the president. Every step of the journey along the way for these refugees, people who leave with little more than a backpack, and their hopes and dreams experience a nightmarish journey along the way. And many migrants have told me in fact that the –  the most dangerous part of the journey is in Mexico. And so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But Margaret, not just in Mexico, but for the entire hemisphere. We are seeing people fleeing their home countries heading to Costa Rica, heading to countries all as all south of here. We have to make sure that diplomatically we are engaging at the highest levels. And finally giving the western hemisphere the kind of attention that it has lacked for a long time by, by the US government.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, thank you for your time today.

REP. ESCOBAR: Thank you, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back.

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