Who Is Veronica Escobar, Who Will Deliver Spanish State Of The Union Response? The first-term Democrat from El Paso, Texas, was thrust into the spotlight last year because of the Trump administration's immigration policies and a mass shooting that targeted Latinos.
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Who Is Veronica Escobar? She Will Deliver Spanish State Of The Union Response

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Who Is Veronica Escobar? She Will Deliver Spanish State Of The Union Response

Who Is Veronica Escobar? She Will Deliver Spanish State Of The Union Response

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The results of the Iowa caucuses are still up in the air. The impeachment trial is still happening. In the middle of all of it, President Trump will give his third State of the Union address. That's happening tonight. And as custom holds, Democrats will respond with remarks of their own. This year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer will deliver a rebuttal in English. And Veronica Escobar, a first-term congresswoman from El Paso, will give a rebuttal in Spanish. As Mallory Falk from member station KERA reports, Escobar and her city have recently been thrown in the spotlight.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: Almost immediately after she took office, Veronica Escobar started leading congressional delegations to the border. Last January, she stood with several lawmakers near a newly built section of border wall - tall steel slats that cut through the desert. For people who live on the border, she said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VERONICA ESCOBAR: It's frustrating to know that we are being painted as a dangerous place meant to be controlled when what we see is a place of complexity and beauty.

FALK: Escobar was elected to fill the seat previously held by Beto O'Rourke - one of the first two Latinas to represent Texas in Congress. But what's truly put her in the spotlight is criticism of the Trump administration's immigration policies at a time when the border and El Paso have dominated the news. Here she is speaking at a House hearing about family separation and migrant detention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESCOBAR: My district is ground zero for these atrocities. These policies have created the humanitarian crisis and a moral one.

FALK: Last August, a white gunman from North Texas - who said he was targeting Mexicans - killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. When President Trump announced plans to visit days after the shooting, Escobar told MSNBC he wasn't welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESCOBAR: The president has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated.

FALK: Those who've known Escobar throughout her career say, they're not surprised about her outspokenness.

RAYMOND CABALLERO: She has this way of speaking that is not insulting and yet you know where she stands. She is not wishy-washy in the least.

FALK: That's Raymond Caballero, a former mayor of El Paso. Escobar volunteered for his campaign back in 2001 and made such a strong impression, he hired her as his communications director. She eventually became county commissioner, then county judge - top positions in the place where her family's run a dairy farm for several generations. Escobar hasn't joined some fellow Democrats who want to abolish ICE. Instead, she's pushing for increased oversight and accountability.

ELIOT SHAPLEIGH: Well, I think she takes a realistic and pragmatic view.

FALK: Eliot Shapleigh is a former state senator from El Paso who's long worked with Escobar.

SHAPLEIGH: There is going to be a Homeland Security agency that relates to border enforcement issues. So she knows that. So what does she do? She says, let's reform ICE.

FALK: Tonight, she'll reach an even larger audience when she helps deliver the Democratic Party's response to Trump in Spanish. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in El Paso.

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