Ep. 50 Texas 23: Borderlands

NICIE PANETTA: Welcome to Texas 23: Borderlands.

JAIME ESCUDER: The truth is, guys, the things we thought were there for checks and balances. There really is only ever one check and balance, and it's always been us. And it's always been our willingness...and I hate that it's coming to this but it's coming to this...to put our bodies in service of our ideals. [claps] So you guys need to wake up.

NICIE: That's lawyer Jaime Escuder from Alpine, Texas, speaking at the Families Belong Together National Day of Protest on June 30th. This is The Midpod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. We're two moms traveling America to chronicle what may be the most important set of elections in our lifetimes. The midterms in November. In these elections, we the people have the chance to elect a new generation of leaders, who are capable of reinvigorating the U.S. Congress, our first branch of government.

NICIE: Texas 23 is a classic swing district which has gone back and forth between the parties over the years. Hillary Clinton won it by about four points in 2016, making it an even more appealing target for Democrats once again. This vast district is the epicenter of the Trump administration's draconian new immigration policies. In this episode, you'll hear from Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones and her opponent Republican incumbent Will Hurd. We'll take you to a border community and across the Rio Grande to meet families who make their lives not on one side or the other, but on both sides. You'll attend our potluck with young Democrats in San Antonio and you'll hear more from Jaime Escuder and his challenge to citizens at the rally in Alpine. But first, let's get a little taste of America's oldest rodeo. Chapter 1: The Pecos Rodeo Parade. In late June, I caught up with Gina Ortiz Jones in Pecos, where she was the judge of the annual rodeo parade. I watched the parade first with Nancy, a local rancher.

NICIE: Look at the "appelesa".

NANCY: And if I am correct, this is the Taylor family.

NICIE: Oh, is this one family?

NANCY: It's one family, they usually all wear yellow. Yep, there, there's, there's one of the big guys right there. Across the street's the other.

NICIE: With the yellow pickup.


NICIE: They get a matching pickup.

NICIE: It was about 100 degrees, and the parade was over an hour long.

NICIE: Horses don't look too, too hot though.

NANCY: It doesn't bother the horses, it's the people!

NICIE: It's the people!

NANCY: The people are dying. They're spoilin'.

NICIE: Would you recommend I stay, there's a lunch right?


NICIE:] Yeah.

NANCY: I would, it's delicious.

NICIE: Is it nice? Yeah.

NICIE: I did stay for lunch: melt-in-your-mouth Texas barbecue, with sides of sliced jalapenos and potato salad and sweet tea served in the historic Posse barn. I bought cookies from a bake sale to benefit the girls volleyball team, and I got the history of the rodeo from Rodeo President Joe Keese.

JOE KEESE: In 1883, July 4th, some ranch hands were basically bragging and, and challenging and they challenged each other to see who the best roper or the best rider was, and bought Brock Buster. And they did this downtown not too far from here. There really wasn't that much of a downtown back then it's next to the railroad tracks. And so they just kind of circled up the wagons and they ran out their first rodeo. They didn't have any ribbons or anything to give away as a prize, so they took a girl's blue skirt or petticoat and they cut it into ribbons to give it, it to you. And so our claim is that that was the first rodeo challenge where it was actually a prize for first place and a prize was given out.

NICIE: I have to say it's my first time in this part of Texas and I flew in yesterday to Midland and the banners and the billboards, "Hiring hiring hiring."

KEESE: If you can't find a job in Pecos area or Reeves County then you're not looking.

NICIE: And is it mostly the oil business or tell me?

KEESE: Most of this is the oil boom, it's the Delaware Basin it's probably the biggest player right now in the country. The wonderful thing is that as we argue back and forth politically about minimum wage but we don't have a minimum wage problem out here we have a maximum wage problem because you can go to work for KFC over here and they're going to start you at 15,16 dollars and work you up. That's 16 year-old kids. So, you know and the businesses I've got some of my landscape businesses shovel work I'm paying 18,20 dollars an hour just for shovel work.

NICIE: So a pipefitter can really make money.

KEESE: Yeah. The welders, the pipefitters and everybody else out here I mean it's it's a boom and they're all everybody's short of help.

NICIE: So I have to ask and I'll let you go but what's your favorite event in the rodeo?

KEESE: That's really hard to say. Probably one of my my favorite events is probably the calf roping just because that's more ranching. I lost money on cattle for quite a few years out here. I don't call myself a rancher because I think they they actually stay in business. But, I love I love to watch the calf roping just because the skill and the horses and the talent that these guys bring although team roping and the doggers I mean, I love all the events.

NICIE: Chapter 2: My Community Invested in Me. I watched Ortiz Jones give out ribbons and trophies at the lunch, posing for pictures. I talked to her afterwards.

GINA ORTIZ JONES: I know exactly how I got to where I am. I mean I worked hard and I studied hard but my country and my community invested in me. You know my mother came to this country 40 years ago. She graduated from the number one university in the Philippines, but came here as a domestic helper. That was the opportunity that presented itself. She wanted a chance at the American dream so she jumped at it. And so I that that's why and frankly that's what I was or my younger sister and I who she raised by herself, that's what we were reminded of every single day. That one, you know your trajectory in life is in no small part to being born here and two, you know too few folks in our country will know what it's like to have to leave your home country to live your best life.

NICIE: Ortiz Jones grew up in San Antonio, joined ROTC in college, and went on to serve as an intelligence officer in the Air Force. She was deployed to Iraq, but as a gay woman, had to keep her sexual orientation a secret because of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Her more recent role in government service was in the office of the U.S. trade representative, evaluating the national security risks posed by foreign investments in U.S. companies. We talked a bit about the district. It's huge. I drove over a thousand miles in four days to get even partway across it. Most of the voters live in and around San Antonio, and in the outskirts of El Paso. But there are hundreds of communities in between and along the border that are served by the 23rd district's member of Congress. Industries include oil, gas, ranching, education, and tourism.

ORTIZ JONES: I kind of liken this, this district as a microcosm for the country right? You've got two large population centers on both sides. You've got San Antonio on one side you've got El Paso on the other. This again is a, a minority-majority district, 70 percent Hispanic. So this district that will, I mean the country will be that by about 2040. Right? And obviously just given our demographics and our geography you know some of the national issues immigration, the border, trade, a lot of those things are playing out firsthand in this district. And so we've got a real opportunity and I think I would argue that's also why this district has always, has always swung, right? Because you know we're at really the forefront of of many of these most pressing issues and that's why I think we see some of these issues a little bit differently than you might in other parts of the country.

NICIE: One pressing issue is healthcare. Texas is home to more people without health insurance than any other state. The Republican-controlled state government has refused to take the federal money that would allow the state to expand Medicaid coverage.

ORTIZ JONES: Texas is a state that did not expand under the ACA. One in six Texans does not have insurance right? Of the roughly two and a half million people in this country that would have insurance if their governors decided to expand under the ACA, of the two and a half million, a quarter of those people live in Texas. One in 10 kids in this country goes to school in Texas. 45 percent of our kids in Texas rely on CHIP or Medicaid for insurance, and that's much higher in areas in communities of color and you know minority-majority districts like this one, so it's healthcare healthcare healthcare.

NICIE: The other very pressing issue, when I spoke to Jones, was the Trump Administration's zero tolerance policy under which ICE has been criminalizing asylum-seekers and taking children away from their parents, jailing them separately in tent cities, converted Walmarts, and other facilities. This was happening right here in this district.

ORTIZ JONES: So yes we're in, in Pecos, which is in the district but Torrio is also in this district. Torrio's where they're building this tent community for the kids that have been separated from their families. And it's just east of El Paso but again it's you know it's in this district so again we are on the frontline of this fight literally and figuratively. This is, regardless of where you are though I think folks understand that you know keeping kids in cages is not the right answer. Right? This is beyond being a Democrat or being a a Republican. But really, you know, shocks the conscience to hear the things that we hear, to see the images of these, of these young kids.

NICIE: I asked Ortiz Jones about allegations made by Republicans, that Democrats want to have wide open borders with little or no monitoring or enforcement.

ORTIZ JONES: It's not about open and closed, it's about having policies that reflect our values. Right? I mean we've had a process in place for people that are that are seeking asylum. There was nothing wrong with that policy frankly, and we need to continue to allow people who are seeking refuge from abuse and torment in their own countries to seek refuge in in the U.S., again we have a policy, we have a process in place. And so the zero zero tolerance policy has has really created frankly a crisis that did not have to exist. And again, really the focus now is to ensure that these kids that have been separated from their families at the border are reunited with their families. We have got to get this right.

NICIE: How would you characterize your opponent's, Representative Hurd's, actions on this area of policy so far?

ORTIZ JONES: I'll be honest with you. I I liken his whole record on immigration as as if somebody kind of set your house on fire and then they showed up at the end with a pail of water. Right? I would argue the reason that we are in this situation that we're in is because you know he at one point in time voted to defund DACA. He cited the very the other extreme Republicans and challenged the constitutionality of DACA. He also voted to deny DREAMers the ability to serve in our military. He has yet to ex, make a, you know provide a good explanation for why we can't keep the promise that this country made to 800,000 DREAMers there are 4,000 DREAMers in this district alone. Between Texas and California that's 45 percent of this country's dreamers, right? So again, the outsize effect that some of these policies have on our populations. So that you know, plus his silence when this president was calling immigrants "animals." Representative Hurd was silent. When this president is talking about people coming from "shithole countries," Representative Hurd is silent. So your awful voting record plus your record of silence...

NICIE: We also talked about the close communities that have grown up on either side of the Texas-Mexico border.

ORTIZ JONES: Forty percent of the U.S. border with Mexico is in this district so 800 miles of border. And you're exactly right. You can't talk about El Paso without talking about Juarez, you can't talk about Presidio without talking about Ojinaga, Del Rio, Acuña, Eagle Pass, Piedras Negras. And so when you talk about again the social, the economic, the cultural ties, they're strong, and that's why when you actually talk to leaders on the border, I mean they know a border wall would just decimate the economies, right? When I was talking to the mayor of Eagle Pass, he was talking about there are two bridges that connect Eagle Pass with their city on the other side, Piedras Negras, and he said you know 40 percent of my city's budget comes from those two bridges and so you know I don't need a wall I need a third bridge!

NICIE: So let's spend a little time talking about incumbent Republican Will Hurd. He's running for his third term, having defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in 2012. Hurd is also from San Antonio, and he's also a person of color. His dad is African-American. In previous episodes you may have heard us offer a tongue-in-cheek bullet point tour of other GOP incumbents' careers. But Will Hurd is an impressive servant leader. His campaign did not respond to our request for an interview, but here are some things to know about him. After serving as president of the student body in college, Hurd joined the CIA in 2000. He was undercover in multiple countries on assignments in counterterrorism after 9/11. He also developed expertise in cyber warfare. Since becoming a member of the House, he's gotten off to a strong start as a legislator. He's already had 12 bills signed into law. And as you'll hear later, Hurd gets strong marks for constituent services. He's visible in the district, even in the blue areas. He's also shown bipartisan flair, famously going on a road trip from Texas to D.C. with El Paso congressman and now U.S. Senate candidate, Beto O'Rourke. They made the journey when flights were cancelled due to snow, and they live-streamed their drive on Facebook from a dashboard camera and took questions from viewers.

WILL HURD: One of the reasons Beto and I are doing this, and we're having fun today, we were having fun late last night, because we really have spent a lot of time together, 20 hours in the car, we've gotten to know each other really well. The point was to show that we can be we can disagree without being disagreeable, and that you know we always see in the media and the press that the...the...we focus on things that divide us, not what what unites us. And I I think there's a lot of elements, you know Beto and I have worked on a lot of things together when it comes to veterans, when it comes to border security, when it comes to our bilateral relation with Mexico, border trade, 86 miles to Knoxville. So, so this is, we were in these other areas of of agreement and cooperation.

NICIE: More recently, Hurd has become extraordinarily vocal, at least compared to his extraordinarily docile Republican colleagues on the Hill. He's criticized the Trump administration and President Trump himself. He's decried the family separation policy as "unacceptable," and recently wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times titled "Trump is Being Manipulated by Putin. What Should We Do?" Here he is on CNN in mid-July.

WILL HURD: I've seen the Russian intelligence and you know, manipulate many people in in my career and and I never would have thought the U.S. president would be would be one of them.

NICIE: We admire and commend Hurd's willingness to put country over party with his statements. The questions that linger are about his actions, specifically his voting record, which is 95 percent with Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to fivethirtyeight.com. So voters in the 23rd are, we have concluded, fortunate to be able to choose between two strong public servants. Both have demonstrated guts and integrity, but they clearly have different values and different priorities. We believe Gina Ortiz Jones has the vision and the values to lead Texas' 23rd and our country to a better place on the key issues for this district: healthcare, immigration, and education, and we believe she will act as an even stronger check on the Trump administration and do more to uphold our democracy at this difficult time.

NICIE: Chapter 3: A Small-town Newspaper for the Big Bend. From Pecos, I drove to Marfa, which is in the heart of the Big Bend region. It's also booming, not from oil, but from art. The minimalist artist Donald Judd made Marfa home in the 1960s, buying up abandoned buildings and land, and turning them into art installations. Now Marfa is a magnet for people who love art, music, and culture. Museums, galleries, and cafés cluster around the feedlot and the train tracks. Marfa is also home to Marfa Public Radio, which gave me a warm welcome when I stopped in. We can't recommend highly enough the podcast they produce based on Lonn Taylor's newspaper column every week for the Big Bend Sentinel. The podcast is called The Rambling Boy, treat yourself. In Marfa, I met with Robert Halpern, he's the editor of the aforementioned award-winning Big Bend Sentinel.

ROBERT HALPERN: The Big Bend is an amazing place. It's I know it gets pegged as being like one ecosystem but from the Davis Mountains to the river are several ecosystems where you can find you know, the evergreens in in the upper Davis Mountains, to this high grass plain in Márfa, which is about 4800 feet, and then on to the Big Bend and the river, which is just incredible too and there's more ecosystems there in Big Bend National Park which is in the mountains, there's more evergreens. And then you drive down to the river and you're in kind of subtropical climbs.

NICIE: Your wife wrote an impassioned editorial last week in the paper about the situation at the border. We'll share that with our listeners if we can on our website. But I love your sense or your your take on where things stand. How how are local folks reacting to this new policy from the Trump administration or whatever it is this confusing set of actions by the Trump administration?

HALPERN: Well in general terms, we don't like it. We don't like the wall, and we don't like zero tolerance. And as I said before 80 percent of our citizenry is Hispanic and in Presidio it's more like 90 95 percent. And this is who we are, to not let people come through and you know embrace the American Dream is not what we're about. That's not what the Statue of Liberty says.

NICIE: Do you guys feel like as citizens you have a voice in all of this? Are there elected officials listening? How are you making your voices heard?

HALPERN: Well we we do let our elected officials know what we think. We do let our elected officials state and national know what we think. And in this problematic times you can either get defeatist or you or one redoubles their effort to put your foot down and say no we're not gonna take it like this. We have fillers in our paper that say, "I won't be quiet." And when it gets problematic or gets difficult we think we can't win you just have to go back to the grind and say, "We're not gonna take it. This is not right. This is not the American way." We fight.

NICIE: Chapter four: One Sanctuary, Many Checkpoints, and a Wall Nobody Seems to Want. From Marfa, I drove early in the morning to Presidio. It's a town of just under 5,000 people. Its sister city across the border, Ojinaga, has over 28,000 residents. This is where the Chisos River joins the Rio Grande. Due to the harsh conditions in the great Chihuahuan desert, it's the only natural place for people to live. El Paso to the west, and Del Rio to the east, are each over 250 miles away. I wanted to visit Presidio because so much of the current rhetoric about the southern borderlands treats it like it's all the same. But that's not true at all. Cities like El Paso and Brownsville are key points of entry with much more activity. Visiting Presidio gave me the chance to see what the vast majority of the Texas-Mexico border is like: a vast wilderness. In Presidio, I met Dennis McEntire. McEntire just retired as the local school superintendent. He's now supporting an effort to create a youth-oriented golf course and a bird sanctuary on land donated by a local farmer.

DENNIS MCENTIRE: Coots run across the water to take off coots and greens. Ducks just go pop and they fly, you know, so...

NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: There's redwing blackbirds and that's interesting to see they're still here.

NICIE: The Big Bend of the Rio Grande is located on the central flyway. Hundreds of bird species migrate north and south through this area every year. McEntire explained that a local farmer, Terry Bishop, realized that this land could be a welcoming oasis for these birds on the wing. But as we talked about the project, our conversation took a turn.

MCENTIRE: It began with the vision of one person and then as the as the farming played it is is it became nonprofitable as they became got away from the farming, then it became, "What do we do with this land?" And it's, "How do we turn this land to something useful?" And that's where Terry's been really working hard at at getting this done.

NICIE: Oh look there's a rainbow. Little one.

MCENTIRE: That sure is.

NICIE: Yeah, right over the mountains. And are those mountains over the border in Mexico?

MCENTIRE: They are.

NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: They certainly are. So matter of fact you see that lead well I'll take you up there in a minute.

NICIE: Yeah, yeah. So that's the Rio Grande right there?


NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: Yeah you're on the border.

NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: And and like I said, the only real danger we have is being out at night watering and stuff and the Border Patrol. This is our danger it's not anything else.

NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: Here we have to watch for them because they don't we don't want to be mistaken for somebody they're...trying to interdict.

NICIE: Right. Right. Have things changed much since this here since these new policies have come down from Washington?

MCENTIRE: We haven't seen it locally but then we wouldn't. It's just never it wasn't a problem before. You know we're just not inundating with people coming across the border and it's not a problem since. I mean, the Border Patrol and Customs they see it and they're aware of it more than we are as locals because that's their that's their reason for existence. So they're focused on that and so they'll see it and to them it probably seems more of a problem than we see it but because they're there because that's going on we as locals don't really see it. We don't see the influx of people we don't see huge numbers coming across. But then we're not in that job either.

NICIE: Right.

MCENTIRE: Mostly what we see are Border Patrol agents and customs agents making us take a long time to cross a bridge and and just being a presence along the border.

NICIE: Yeah.

MCENTIRE: I don't think anybody is wanting a complete free and open border. I don't think that's what we're talking about but it's just not a problem it's just––

NICIE: There's no crisis.

MCENTIRE: There is no crisis here. Not in this part of the country. You've driven through the desert to get here. You know how far it is to any place. It's just as far on the other side to any place. And so Ojinagan people are isolated in the middle of huge deserts. And it's difficult to cross 'em and it doesn't make any logistic sense to try to move huge amounts of drugs across. Are there drug shipments across? Sure, any place there's a demand there will be a supply.

NICIE: So do you feel like there's a need for more fortification of the border here?

MCENTIRE: Absolutely not. We are our own fortification here I mean 150 miles of deserts are a hell of a wall. And then why would you want to destroy the beauty of this place? And as you as you go along this border as you travel from here to Lajitas to Terlingua to Big Bend National Park through Big Bend Ranch State Park, you'll see huge canyon walls. And it's just gorgeous country. It's it's mountainous it's full of life it's full of...wildness and in it's the way we like it it's it's the way it should be for humanity.

NICIE: So this is the moment for me to explain what it's like these days near the U.S.-Mexico border, or at least what I experienced. In this vast, majestic, and empty landscape, there is one pervasive human presence and that is law enforcement. In addition to local police and sheriff, the Border Patrol in particular is everywhere. Their white pickups with green stripes are ubiquitous, driving around by the side of the road, stationed on hilltops just watching. They also have ATVs, boats, and horse patrols. And they have checkpoints. Lots of checkpoints. You heard about these checkpoints first from Heather in episode 45 of The MidPod, the one about New Hampshire's first congressional district. Thanks to a law passed with little debate in Congress in 1953, Customs and Border Protection have extensive legal jurisdiction over a 100-mile zone inside the U.S. border. But in Texas, there are permanent installations by the side of the road, with double wide trailers serving as offices. And just to be clear, these checkpoints are not at the border, they're in the U.S. So it's not possible to drive north from the Rio Grande, at least where I was, without passing through a mandatory checkpoint where you were asked about your citizenship. Now this is a question you're not obligated legally to answer. But you're also subject to a visual inspection by a number of armed officers, one of whom has a dog. And just for some perspective, two thirds of Americans live in this 100-mile zone. This law, depending on how it's enforced and used, has the potential to affect the vast majority of Americans. So this is the context for McEntire sharing with me that the biggest perceived danger to his local group building a golf course is not criminals and it's not immigrants. It's actually the Border Patrol.

NICIE: Over at the town library, librarian Carmen Elquezabel shared her thoughts on the situation at the border.

CARMEN ELQUEZABEL: What's really in the news is for us all us immigrants coming through and people that do crime and stuff that's not the case. They're just trying to better their lives and and better their their way of living. If immigrants are coming they're really not coming from Mexico because the majority of them do have visas to work here. We have the tomato plants where the migrants come every day. They drive an hour and a half to go to Fort Davis to work at the tomato plant. They leave in the morning at five come back in the evening late. If it weren't for them we wouldn't have the tomato plant. So they make a difference in the in farming and and all that.

NICIE: Over at City Hall, Mayor John Ferguson and development director Brad Nelson, told me they'd like to see crossing the border made easier not harder to spur economic development. They have a strong working relationship with the leadership of Ojinaga. The towns assist each other with emergencies and cooperate on many issues. And the Mexican consulate recently donated a portrait mural adorning Presidio's water tower. It depicts a Mexican woman who's a shopkeeper in Presidio. It's one symbol of the towns' close ties and good relations. As for the race in the 23rd, Ferguson who's a Democrat is supporting Gina Ortiz Jones. Nelson says he's probably voting for Will Hurd, but both men praised Hurd for his support on key projects and issues, and for making the time to come to their remote and largely Democratic corner of the district. Here's Brad Nelson.

BRAD NELSON: Will's already done some pretty tough time down here. Always think about the time we took him over though Ojinaga and it was about the border violence and all that stuff and and you know Will being ex-CIA and everything he says, "Brad, I've been in a lot of a lot of dangerous places, and Ojinaga's not one of them." But at least we have a U.S. congressman right now that's willing to go into Mexico. Find out what the deals are and he's working across the aisle with Henry Cuellar and and some of the others so he is demonstrating bipartisanship that we don't see from other politicians.

NICIE: Ferguson, Nelson, and everyone else I spoke to say they're all united on one thing. They don't want or need a wall on the border. Chapter 5: Ojinaga. Towards the end of the afternoon, I hopped into Carlos Nieto's pickup truck and headed for the bridge to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. Nieto is from a prominent local Mexican-American family. He's now at Texas State University at San Marcos studying to become a physician's assistant. His dream is to return home to provide needed medical care that just isn't available right now in Presidio. Ojinaga has several large neighborhoods arranged around a central plaza. The city gives way quickly to orchards, farms, and ranches. Our first stop was the home of Vicky Carlos. Her husband, Mike Vogel, is a retired school teacher in Presidio. Vicky is Mexican-American. She's a U.S. citizen, but she prefers to live in Ojinaga. She has a sewing shop next to her house that sells school uniforms and other items. And her passion is birds. She keeps canaries, finches, mockingbirds, and one beautiful gray parrot. You'll hear them singing and you may hear the parrot whistling. I asked her about what Ojinaga is like.

VICKY CARLOS: [Speaking Spanish] The border is very peaceful and people from the U.S. think it's very peaceful too. [Spanish]

NICIE: I asked Vicky about her views on President Trump's immigration policies and the family separations.

VICKY CARLOS: [Spanish] It's terrible, terrible the separation of children from their parents. To me it's an insult, it's an insult to our people. The truth is, the intent is the separation of the Hispanic people. These people just want to work. These aren't the vandals or drug dealers or bad people but those who want to work. These people come to America because they have to leave their home country.

NICIE: We talked some more about how Vicki enjoys the quiet life in Ojinaga. Mike and Carlos chimed in too.

MIKE: In my experience, when you live in the United States, there's like a pressure on you. That pressure doesn't exist here, and I can feel it, she can feel it. It's much more relaxed atmosphere in Mexico.

CARLOS: You wanna say the stress level.

MIKE: Yeah, yeah.

CARLOS: There's a lot of materialism in the U.S., everything...

MIKE: Everything is money. And here, you know if you have money, great, if you don't, well, join the club, you know. But in the United States, if you don't have money, you know...

CARLOS: You feel that too?

MIKE: Yeah actually I went to college and all you're seeing is materialism. And my first year in college I was wasting money I didn't have. You want to fit in, have the right clothes you want to look like everyone else you want to keep up with certain trends. So people won't look down upon you. You come back here, you realize how humble the community is. You look around you. Kids would play with an old soccer ball with little air. They're playing outside. They're moving less even if they find a little trash box or something there kicking it, they're playing, and they're having the time of their life. And the U.S., I'm not gonna generalize and say everyone, but technology is really taken over on kids where they get spoiled, they're inside playing their video games. They don't learn to appreciate what they have outside.

CARLOS: Another thing is, people from the U.S. view this side as dangerous. So a lot of people from even Odessa, Midland are talking about...yeah, they view this as if it were hell, if it were dangerous. You walk out and they're going to kidnap you or shoot you.

MIKE: Dodging bullets.

CARLOS: In reality you can't judge a book by its cover or by what other people are saying, you have to come down and check it out yourself because the people right here in Ojinaga, Presido, very humble people, very caring people who are ready to reach out and help you out whenever you need help. In reality, if you don't come down here, there's no way you can really criticize by just hearing the bad news what they report.

NICIE: If you've been listening to The Midpod for a while, you know that at some point, you'll hear about food. Well, in addition to the consensus on the wall, there is also consensus in Presidio about something else. The Food in Ojinaga is really fantastic. Carlos was kind enough to take me around looking for snacks. First we went to a sweets shop and got mangonada. It's mango sorbet, topped with chamoy and apricot chili paste, and then tamarind. You mix it all up as it melts in the cup. It's a tongue-tingling mélange of sweet and spicy. We also went to an outdoor stand with a thatched roof for Mexican shrimp cocktail. I took that to go so I could have it for dinner after my drive to Terlingua ghost town where I was staying that night. The shrimp were submerged in a ceviche-like soupy marinade made with onions, celery, tomato, clam juice, lime juice, hot sauce, and cilantro. Fresh tostado crackers came on the side. It made for a fantastic alfresco picnic. We have recipes for mangonada and Mexican shrimp cocktail on the "eat" blog on our website. My thanks to everybody in Presidio for their help and welcome. I can't wait to go back and raft through the canyons of the Chisos. Chapter 6: Families Belong Together. On Saturday June 30th I drove north to Alpine. The lawn in front of the Brewster County Courthouse was the site of one of the hundreds of protests that took place that day across the country. About 100 people gathered with signs. Several community leaders spoke, including an Episcopal priest, an expert on childhood trauma, two immigration lawyers, and Pete Gallego, the former congressman for the 23rd, who's now running for state senate. The voice we want you to hear again is that of Jaime Escuder. He laid out a dire scenario for our country which he hopes and we hope does not come to pass. But if you've listened to our show on the Underground Railroad and heard our interview with Eric Foner, you probably know that we are two very concerned moms, and we believe it's worth considering now, preparing now, for how we will proceed. What we will actually do if the rule of law and the decency of our government continue to deteriorate.

NICIE: Here's Escuder's challenge.

ESCUDER: I think in every person's life...there is what I like to call the Gethsemane moment, and I'm not gonna quote scripture because I'm not religious OK? I'm not religious, but I do believe that guy was awesome. And he talked truth to power, and guess what? He paid the price with his body, didn't he? We didn't want it, and I know you're all saying this to yourselves, "I don't want this. Look I don't want to be here right now." I I moved to Alpine to star gaze in back roads, not to give speeches like this, that's what I say to my country. I've got other things to do on Saturday just like you guys. All right? Take this cup from me. Guess what? This is your cup, it's your cup, because this is your country. And so what we're going to do, is we're going to get together and in December, after the election is lost, and the children are still incarcerated, we're gonna find out where they are, and they're gonna be in San Angelo, or they're gonna be in El Paso, and we're gonna take our bodies there together. And we are, we're we'll be afraid because we know that at the end of that road there's going to be a fortress and a wall, barbed wire, and men with guns. And we're gonna go anyway, because it's that fear that makes us the land of the brave. And we're gonna go because this is our home, damn it! And we're gonna march. And the men with guns are gonna hear our marches. They are going to hear our songs of freedom. They are going to see the wondrous diversity of this country. Jews, gentiles, Black Americans, Mexican-Americans, Indian-Americans, American-Indians, walking together. And they are going to know that the true spirit of America is coming to them. We are coming to free the children! We are planning to take our country back.

NICIE: Chapter 7: The Young Dems Who Might Just Make the Difference. OK. Operating on the theory that the midterm elections will take place, that they will be free and fair, and that we do have a chance of electing a lot of great people to Congress, people who will stand up to Trump and reform this critical institution, let's get back to the race for the 23rd. Over half the voting age population lives in Bexar county in and around San Antonio. And half of the eligible voters in Bexar County are Latino. So the key votes Gina Ortiz Jones needs to win are Latino voters in Bexar county. A large percentage of these voters are young, so the work to inspire young Latinos to register and then vote Democratic could absolutely win this race for Ortiz Jones if it's done well. I met with the leadership of the local Young Democrats to hear their thoughts. The night of our potluck in San Antonio was also the night of an informative panel on family separations. So we punted on cooking and assembled across the street at a local restaurant for a late dinner. Mexican, 'course. OK we are here at El Mirasol in San Antonio. And I'm here with a dynamic group of Bexar county young Dems. So we'll go around, we're actually eating so this is gonna be interesting, but we're having great Mexican food I'm having crabmeat avocado rellenos, and Rafael was kind enough to share an amazing taco with me...tell again what's in it.

RAFAEL ALCOSER: Nopalitos, cactus.

NICIE: It's delicious, and some chicharrones?

ALCOSER: Chicharrones.

NICIE: It's delicious pork rinds.

NICIE:  Before we got into their plans to mobilize voters, we talked for a while about what is at stake. Here's Rafael Alcoser. He works in finance and is the finance director for the San Antonio Young Democrats.

ALCOSER: I I come from various generations of military. My grandparents decided to retire here. My dad, my uncles, plenty of cousins still serving in the military, huge military family. But we're at a point in history too where we don't feel welcome here. And...I think that's unacceptable.

NICIE: So I think for a lot of our listeners who maybe live in in parts of the country that are less diverse, they might not have a sense of what that means like what is it that makes you feel unwelcome? Or members of your family and community?

ALCOSER: Being pulled over. Being profiled. Crossing over the border nest from an American citizen. Being asked certain questions like, "Who's the president the United States of America?" Which is just really absurd. My birth certificate's a little different from other people's, it's actually blue. Because I was born overseas. So not across the river but across an ocean. And unless it's border patrol who's former military, they may consider it...fake. Or fraudulent. So I get hassled a lot from my birth certificate.

NICIE: Do you carry your birth certificate with you?

ALCOSER: I have to. That's the world we live in. It's unfortunate but I do carry my birth certificate with me.

NICIE: Anthony Cruz and Lorenzo Gonzalez are young but they're already veteran campaigners.

ANTHONY CRUZ: I mean, campaigning is...ask any of them. It's it's so much fun, but at the same time it's so...hair-raising and...acid reflux-inducing and all that fun stuff.

LORENZO GONZALEZ: To Anthony's point, I actually agreed with the turnout in this case with Ron Nirenberg winning the mayoral race. But it just, it's just another example of essentially how you win a race in Texas or how you win a race in Bexar County is you find your electorate. Rather than... the masses voting, you go and you pick out, "OK these are the specific people that need to vote. They consistently vote so I get this 12 percent of the city to vote for me, then essentially I get 100 percent of the electorate because the other 88 percent isn't going to vote." So I think from a civic engagement standpoint we need to actually just get more people so the candidates can't open up old voter log and say, "These are the 11 percent I need."

CRUZ: I completely agree. Most radical thing I will ever believe in is compulsory voting like they do in Australia. Because the only way you're ever going to get an accurate understanding of what the people want...is by them telling you what they want. And, America doesn't vote. You know, we pride ourselves in being one of the––.

GONZALEZ: America doesn't vote for political reasons they vote for you know American Idol and America's Got Talent and all that and like I've actually toyed with the idea of why can't we just have like an 800 number, you know, for the Republican press one for the Democrat press two like, obviously people know how to do that, but.

NICIE: Rafael and Jennifer Cornejo added this.

ALCOSER: So Anthony's brilliant Lorenzo's brilliant so is Jennifer but...I have to agree to disagree. Yes we know the 10,11 percent that are going to turn out and vote consistently...I think we need to target the larger percentage of 25 and under who are fired up, who don't want guns in the school anymore. We don't want profiling. We don't want to end up in debt to have an education. Those are the folks you need to target. Those are the folks where the candidate themselves needs a knock on the door and do the block walking. I think Gina's in a great position to do this, there's plenty of time from now to November to do this, hopefully it gets done.

NICIE: You agree?

JENNIFER CORNEJO: Yeah I completely agree. We're actually talking about that in the last meeting we had with the young Dems. We're gonna take some action and block walk for a couple can, candidates and do some phone calls. And try to...let people know like, this is really important.

NICIE: Even people that aren't on these lists of known voters?

CORNEJO: Exactly. Nowadays social media is very important so I think that's a good way to target the young millennials, you know?

NICIE: Rafael wrap things up for us.

ALCOSER: Well first I want to thank you for having us this evening on your podcast. My message to all your listeners and everyone who listens to this in the future is I just need one thing. I need every single individual to take one person who normally doesn't vote to the polls with them. If every person who votes takes one person to the polls who normally doesn't vote, we can change everything. What I love about San Antonio and Bexar County, there's a saying in Spanish but for all the listeners I'm gonna say it in English. San Antonio Bexar county is the largest smallest ranch in Texas. Very very very hospitable, Texas the same way. Everyone's welcome in Texas to a glass of iced tea. A slice of pie. And a how do y'all. So we're not as bad as we seem on TV. We're very welcoming and hospitable.

NICIE: Quota. I'd like to thank everyone in Texas 23 who was so welcoming and hospitable to me. I wish I had the right words to describe the harsh yet delicate beauty of West Texas for you. The grandeur of its mountains and its canyons, the way just a little rain makes the desert plants leap up with green, the darkness of the nights making the stars seem so close. But I will tell you just one last little thing. As I was checking in at the Panther Junction visitors center in Big Bend National Park, I noticed a bird's nest in an ocotillo cactus near the building. I asked the ranger about it and she shared with me that it was the nest of the cactus wren. It seems so unlikely and so difficult to make your home in the thorny embrace of the scrawny branches of the ocotillo, but that's just what the cactus wren does. And once I saw that first nest I saw them all over the place. And so it is for the people of West Texas and of Mexico, who live in the great Chihuahuan Desert. They have adapted to life in this challenging, humbling, beautiful landscape that extends north and south across the border of our two nations, and they like all the birds on the central flyway have been migrating north and south across the Rio Grande for centuries. People here don't want a wall. They want more bridges. So let's get to work on creating an America with fewer detention camps and fewer checkpoints. And an America with more bird sanctuaries and more bridges. [music]

NICIE: So that's it for this edition of the Midpod. Please visit our website themidpod.com. There is much to explore, much to read about, and we've got videos there. Heather's great blog, and of course, recipes. We hope you'll connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. We're @themidpod. Rate and review us on Apple podcasts. The more people who do, the more people will find The Midpod. The Midpod is a production of Bird on the Wing Media. The executive producer is Helen Barrington, and the mix engineer is James Donahue. The program is produced at Whiskey Lane Productions in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Special thanks to Alex Brownstein from the PRX podcast garage. Special thanks for this episode to our newest musical contributor, Sam Watts. We featured him and his band Ghosts I've Met in this episode with Sam's song, Silo Roof. Our theme music is Wakeup Call, by Cercie Miller and it's performed by the Cercie Miller quartet. Thank you Cercie. Thank you for listening, and see you soon.

Eunice Panetta