El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar doesn't know if she will ever be called back to Washington to testify.
Escobar was part of a delegation that testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Washington, D.C., last week -- and some of the senators didn't like what she had to say.
During her testimony, she and committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed on the value of the border fence. The disagreement led to a heated discussion between her and members of the committee regarding their differences of opinion on how to better secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
After testifying, Escobar returned to El Paso.
Q What was the overall goal or message you were trying to get across?
A My message was that federal grants and supplements are helpful but they are not covering the costs that we incur that we did not anticipate. Those costs that we incur include security and the trauma care that are being delivered into the University Medical Center. We need more resources.
Q How has the violence in Juárez affected operations at the University Medical Center?
A The trauma care that victims of violence are rushed into at UMC affects our local property taxpayers who pay the uncompensated costs that are up to $3.7 million. As I mentioned in my letter, we repeatedly asked for funding from the Merída Initiative to help offset the cost borne by taxpayers. Because the burden won't diminish
Q Did you feel like you were alone in your sentiments?
A It was very frustrating. Not only do I think that some senators have no idea what's going on in the border, (but) for example, Senator McCain and the Arizona Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu paint a picture of an almost lawless state, an Arizona that is extremely dangerous and extremely volatile. Both are sending a message to the committee that the border is in a very dangerous state. My message was that we are the safest city in the U.S.
Q Why did McCain get upset with your responses?
A Both he and Senator (Tom) Coburn, R-Okla., seemed irritated at the fact that I wasn't telling them what they wanted to hear. At one point I told Sen. Coburn, "I'm not here to tell you want you want to hear. I'm here to give you the facts and it should be in your interest to get the facts and keep us safe."
We have seen some instances where our local law enforcement has had to deal with transnational gang activities that are linked directly to the cartel. But bombs exploding in the streets of El Paso -- absolutely not. So I took issue with Sen. McCain because he wanted to paint the entire border as lawless and just ignore the laws of supply and demand. There is almost this willful blindness to Americans' insatiable appetite for illegal drugs. The other thing I took issue with was McCain wanting to apply some of the same quote-unquote solutions to El Paso that he's applying to Arizona. And the one point I tried to get across was -- let me tell you why and how we've been successful and how you can keep us successful; it's in your best interest.
Q Do you expect to be invited back?
A I don't know that they want me back. I was there to deliver the message and I was glad that El Paso had a seat on that panel. My concern was that if our perspective was not presented they would paint the border communities with the same brush. Our border challenges are very different from Arizona's. McCain wanted to use the same solution they applied to Arizona and have military personal on the border. While Arizona is begging for this, El Paso is not.
Alex Hinojosa may be reached ahinojosa@...; 546-6137.