ELSA, Texas (Border Report) — Two sitting members of Congress, who are vying for the Texas District 34th seat to represent the South Texas border region, have very different opinions on border security and how to prevent illegal migration. And this race is being watched throughout the state and nation as Democrats want to re-take this seat back.
U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican, currently represents Texas Congressional District 34, an area that includes the Gulf Coast and communities bordering northern Mexico. She is the first Republican to ever hold this seat and the first Mexican-born Latina elected to Congress after she won it in June during a special election when U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela suddenly retired.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat, is fighting to remain in Congress for his fourth term. He currently represents neighboring Texas Congressional District 15, but after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew the voting boundaries in South Texas, he switched to run for the 34th District where his McAllen home now is located.
Gonzalez chose not to run for the special election, which would have required him to give up his current seat, something that political analysts have told Border Report has given Republicans momentum going into this general election.
Border Report caught up with Gonzalez on Thursday as he and his wife, Lorena Gonzalez, cast their ballots at an election station in the tiny border town of Elsa, Texas.
He stressed that he is a moderate who believes in enforcing U.S. border security laws. And he touted the Safe Zones Act, which he has proposed, that would require migrants to make their claims for asylum on the southern border with Mexico — not the United States. If their credible fears are substantiated, they would then be allowed to fly into the United States “into their final destination from there.”
“It would take the cartels out of it. It would bring safety and security to our southern border and would allow law enforcement and Border Patrol to do the jobs they’re meant to do,” Gonzalez told Border Report. “They could not go through Mexico under this law. If they showed up at our border without having checked into that safe zone they would be immediately removed back to that safe zone. This is the only real proposal in the country that would address what we’re dealing with.”
On Thursday, Flores also co-sponsored a border security-related proposal in Congress called the Justice for Victims of Open Borders Act.
If approved, it would require states to give priority to victims of violent crimes that are committed by those who are not legally in the United States.
“It’s important that victims of crime, committed by illegal immigrants, know that state and federal resources are with them in their time of need. I want victims to concentrate and prioritize their recovery and I thank my colleagues for helping me tackle this issue head-on,” Flores said in a statement.
The measure would require states to consolidate data on crimes and would direct state agencies to prioritize dole-outs to victims of crimes by non-residents.
Flores declined repeated requests for an interview with Border Report for this story.
But in August, she spoke to us about border security and she blamed Gonzalez, saying he has been part of the problem.
“He doesn’t even talk about it like it doesn’t even exist,” she said Aug. 30 while attending a border tour with other female Republican candidates. “People are not OK with what’s happening. He thinks because we’re Hispanics that we’re OK with people coming into our country illegally. No we’re not. We’re not OK. I’m not blaming the immigrants. I’m blaming the administration. I’m blaming Vicente Gonzalez for supporting policies that continue to create them to come into the U.S. illegally knowing that they’re going to have to go through literally hell to come here. Why not improve the legal process? Why not allow them to come here through the ports of entry? Why do they want them to come through that dangerous river?”
She also accused Gonzalez of not bringing down members to the South Texas border to see the situation for themselves.
“He hasn’t even done a border tour. That just shows how disconnected he is from what really matters to the people here in South Texas,” she said.
On Thursday, Gonzalez disputed that.
“That’s absolutely not true. I brought the only bipartisan group of members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — that came down here not only for photo ops but for actually to address the issues. And this bill, the Safe Zones Act, was derived from that,” Gonzalez said.
Political analysts tell Border Report that with a sitting Republican congresswoman holding the seat, the GOP currently have momentum and they want to keep the seat red.
“The Republican National Committee’s goals is to have a red Valley instead of a blue Valley,” said Natasha Altema McNeely, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
McNeely said what will tip the tide for this election will be whether Republicans on the Gulf Coast recognize the financial gains that Gonzalez has helped get for that region while he has been in office.
He told Border Report that he has helped to bring in over $6 billion in federal resources to the district during his six years in office. This includes $3 billion for schools in the last three years, he said.
“It’s going to be interesting because although Congressman Gonzalez is going to be running in a district he doesn’t currently represent, a lot of his actions while in office as representative for District 15 have served to benefit not only the residents of District 15, but the residents of District 34, as well,” McNeely said.