Two Texas Latinas started the year by making history when they entered Congress, and they ended it by casting historic votes to impeach the president.
Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, both Democrats, said in interviews that polls showing Americans split on whether the president should be removed from office did not change anything, that they stood by their votes both in the House and as members of the Judiciary Committee.
“We have no choice," Escobar said. "I don’t know if it will stop him from doing this in the future, but if we did nothing he would absolutely continue with the same abusive behavior in the future."
Garcia said she was still trying to mentally digest that “a president of the United States behaved the way Donald Trump did” and that no Republican joined Democrats to ratify the impeachment articles. The vote was her duty and responsibility to preserve democracy, she said.
“I slept very well last night,” she said the morning after the vote. “The alarm went off this morning; I just thought, ‘Oh no, I’m finally getting some sleep.' I think there is some sense of tranquility and acceptance of the fact that it’s happened.”
“As I like to tell people, I’m a freshman, not a rookie,” said Garcia, who served as a Texas state senator and Harris County commissioner. She said she was the only commissioner who worked to keep the county from participating in a federal program that trains local officers to help enforce immigration laws, she said.
“It cost me later in my election, but sometimes you have to do what’s right and remember it’s not about you," Garcia said.
Even though she and Garcia have accomplished something no other Texas Latina had before — cast votes in the U.S. House — Escobar said she can’t help but feel sad as the year ends without Congress uniting to address issues such as domestic terrorism and gun violence, especially after the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3 left 22 people dead and another 26 wounded.
“This is so tragic. This is a moment when we should be united as a country,” Escobar said. “When you think about the terrible tragedies in American history, you think about the unity that comes after disasters, terrorist attacks, the innumerable mass shootings. People come together as Americans."
“I slept very well last night,” said Garcia after the historic impeachment vote.
“We are not united as Americans, and we should be completely in lock step with one another, fighting for our country and fighting for our elections,” she said.
Police are treating the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism after linking the gunman to an anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant screed posted before the shootings. When arrested, the gunman said he wanted to kill Mexicans, authorities said.
Garcia and Escobar said that despite a turbulent first year in Congress, they managed to advance some of the agenda they campaigned on.
Garcia named the House passage of a Dream Act that sets up a process for young immigrants not legally in the U.S. and people with Temporary Protected Status to work toward permanent legal residency.
She also cited her work on the Financial Services Committee to end evictions of families with family members not legally in the U.S.
Garcia is looking forward to a January hearing on a bill she filed to regulate crypto currency to prevent it from competing with the U.S. dollar and keep it from being used to launder money.
She said she was able to bring her background of picking cotton and doing work on the farm she grew up on to the debate on the Farmworker Modernization Act that recently passed the House.
“The sad thing is not much has changed since I did it, ” Garcia said of conditions for farmworkers. “A lot of people really listened. It became more than just another bill.”
'Deeply connected' on border, El Paso shooting
Escobar said her agenda was similar to that of other colleagues — addressing the cost of health care, climate change, prescription costs, stagnant wages and local tax exemptions. The House has passed legislation to get many of those issues and others addressed.
But Escobar has also found herself thrust to the front lines of the Democratic resistance to Trump administration immigration policies, becoming a sort of border warrior.
“My office has been doing everything possible to fight an administration that is intent on dehumanizing immigrants and violating asylum laws,” she said. El Paso has been made “ground zero of the Trump administration’s atrocities against humanity,” Escobar said.
The administration first tested its separation of children from their parents who arrived at the border at El Paso, which Escobar represents, in 2018 and then implemented it there. It also used El Paso to secretly test accelerated reviews of asylum requests.
The president made the city the center of his demand that Congress fund the border wall he had campaigned on and said Mexico would fund. There were forced slowdowns of commercial traffic on El Paso’s international bridges and threats to close the bridges entirely in protest.
"I feel as though everything that has happened has made me a million times more intent to change things," said Escobar.
Escobar hosted over a dozen congressional trips to the border for her colleagues, which she said brought almost 20 percent of Congress to the border.
“We dealt with a barrage of hate, and then to deal with the shooting — that was the most difficult time in my entire life,” she said.
After the Walmart shooting, Escobar has stepped up her focus on gun safety legislation, which passed the House in the spring. When Trump announced he would visit the city after the shooting, she said publicly he was “not welcome ” in El Paso and she refused to meet with him.
“I never anticipated this year would be as difficult as it has been, just in terms of what the community has had to endure,” Escobar said. “I can’t tell you how it changed me as a person, but I do feel more deeply connected to my community and ... I feel as though everything that has happened has made me a million times more intent to change things.”