Democratic statewide candidates get tough questions from Latino youth

Karla Quiñones did not mince words as she asked the first question to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez.

“Ms. Valdez, you were sheriff of Dallas County for many years, and it seems that your legacy was one of supporting anti-immigrant policies that actually expanded ICE enforcement,” said Quiñones, a Dallas high school student, posing a series of pointed questions about Valdez’s cooperation with the federal agency and her intentions if elected governor. “Why should we trust you today?” 

The less-than-direct answer that followed from Valdez did not appear to satisfy Quiñones and the group she represents — Jolt Texas, which was created last year to mobilize young Latinos in turning the state blue. And before the end of the afternoon, Valdez had lost another endorsement to her runoff rival, Democrat Andrew White, after coming across as ill-prepared or -informed.

Jolt had convened four Democratic statewide candidates for a town hall Sunday morning in Austin, and Valdez was not the only one who faced tough questions about his or her record. White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, was asked twice about a “border security company” he owns, and U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke was pressed on his commitment to LGBT rights.  

But it was Valdez’s appearance that raised the most eyebrows, prompting Jolt to endorse White and deliver a blow to a candidate whom many Democrats have hoped would galvanize the Latino vote in November. 

In her answer to Quiñones’ question, Valdez insisted she would fight for the immigrant community but partially skirted the specific issues the student had raised with her tenure as Dallas County sheriff. 

“Of course — look at me,” Valdez said. “I’m going to fight for as much immigration as I can, but immigration is a federal issue and there are certain things that we have to do. Unfortunately what she was discussing were several things that were quite misunderstood.”

Valdez went on to tout her opposition to the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban last year as well as her support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. At the end of her answer, she addressed something mentioned by Quiñones — a community walkout at a meeting she held with federal immigration authorities — downplaying it as a “couple people that were upset because I couldn’t explain to them what was going on.”

Jolt seemed almost instantly dissatisfied with Valdez’s overall answer, tweeting minutes later that it would have liked to see Valdez “go more in detail on her Dallas county record.” White, who is running against Valdez to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, also voiced disappointment with Valdez’s answer, telling reporters afterward that she “needs to answer those questions and today she didn’t really answers those questions — she put it off.”

“The young lady who asked that question deserves a real answer,” White said of Quiñones. “We haven’t gotten an answer.”

Valdez initially declined to discuss the topic at any length with a swarm of reporters who sought to ask her about it as she left the auditorium where the event had been held. When she eventually made herself available to the media in the lobby, Valdez said there was a “misunderstanding” of her record as portrayed by Quiñones. As for why the Latino community should trust her, she again pointed to her opposition to the “sanctuary cities” law — Senate Bill 4 — noting she “went to fight SB 4 before anybody else showed up.”

After fielding questions from reporters for about three minutes, Valdez made clear she was done, flashing some frustration. 

“OK, I’ve given you your answers,” Valdez told reporters. “You wanted some answers. I’ve given them to you, OK? Now let us do what we love to do best and [talk to] some of the voters and go on to the other things we have to do, OK?”

To be sure, White did not escape scrutiny at the town hall either. He initially got a multi-part question on immigration  that alluded to his “border security business” — a reference to Geovox Security Inc., a company he owns that uses heartbeat-detection technology to find people hiding in vehicles. White did not address the topic in his response to that question, which was from Emily Pinal, president of the Jolt chapter at the University of Texas at Tyler. So the group asked it again later. 

White had an answer ready on the second go-around, explaining that Geovox’s technology is put to use on the U.S. border and in other countries “to make sure that sex trafficking is not happening, to make sure that if there are people in the back of that truck, they’re not dying from heat exhaustion or dehydration.” White characterized it as a “smart security” that stands in contrast with Republican efforts to secure the border, which most recently included ratcheting up the National Guard presence there at the direction of President Donald Trump

“It’s a perfect example, in my opinion, of the type of leadership I want to bring to the border, which is yeah, we need a secure border, for sure, it’s our sovereign right, but we should have a smart border, not a fear-mongering border,” White said. “I’m sure this issue might be used against me — that I have a quote ‘border security business’ — but the reality is it’s used to protect people’s lives, and frankly I’m very proud of the fact that in the 20-something-year history that we’ve had, we have saved thousands of lives with this technology.”

O’Rourke — who is challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — also felt some heat when it was his turn to be questioned. Marco Mejia, president of Jolt’s chapter at the University of Texas at El Paso, asked O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, how he plans to fight for the LGBT community, noting that many politicians hold themselves out as allies of the community but “do little to prove it.” 


O’Rourke seemed well aware of the skepticism. 

“You kind of issued a challenge there — you said, ‘It’s one thing to talk the talk, but can you walk it as well?'” O’Rourke replied before going on to list numerous pro-LGBT proposals he has been involved in, dating back to his days on El Paso’s city council, when he led a fight for same-sex benefits for city employees.  

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here


Latino voting group wants Valdez to explain immigration record in debate with Andrew White

By James Barragan [This piece was originally published in Dallas News on 4/30/2018]

AUSTIN — Gubernatorial hopeful Lupe Valdez has apologized for failing to address questions about her immigration track record Sunday during a candidate forum aimed at young Latino voters. 

“This weekend, I fell short,” the former Dallas County sheriff said Monday in a prepared statement. “A young woman asked me a question at a forum over the weekend regarding my track record, and she did not get the answer she deserved. I am sorry, and I understand why people are disappointed.” 

The nearly 700-word statement comes as potential voters and left-leaning advocates have pressured Valdez to explain why she cooperated with immigration authorities’ requests to hold people in her office’s custody.

Karla Quiñones, the W.T. White student from Dallas who questioned Valdez, released a statement Tuesday on behalf of Jolt, a group focused on mobilizing Latinos to vote that organized the forum Sunday.

“We appreciate Lupe Valdez’ statement, but there are still many questions that need to be answered about the policies that she implemented as Dallas County sheriff,” Quiñones said. “The policies that Valdez adopted allowed ICE to have access to jails she oversaw, and led to the deportation and separation of immigrant families across Dallas.”

During the exchange with Quiñones, Valdez said she supported immigration reform and a path to citizenship but did not address questions about her office’s compliance with ICE detention orders. 

After representatives from Jolt expressed dissatisfaction with her response, they endorsed her opponent in the May 22 Democratic runoff, Andrew White, who criticized Valdez for not directly answering the question. 

“We had the same thought Karla had, which is, she still hasn’t answered the question,” Desi Canela, a spokeswoman for White’s campaign said in an email. “That’s what’s led Texas immigration activists to ask: Whose side is she on? She voluntarily complied with ICE, and voters like Karla want to know why, and rightfully so. Maybe this is why Lupe won’t debate.”

White has repeatedly pushed for a debate with Valdez, who has said she is open to it but her staff will handle the details.

Quiñones, a member of the group’s endorsement committee, added: “We think that one of the best ways for her to address all outstanding questions is by debating her opponent Andrew White. Texans deserve to hear from both of them.” 

In her statement Monday, Valdez said the country has a “broken immigration system” that too often results in immigrants and other vulnerable communities being used as bargaining chips. The divide between immigration hawks at the federal and state level, she said, puts local officials in a no-win situation.

“Federal and state officials are pressuring local law enforcement to follow policies that rip families apart. Local law enforcement is often torn between repairing trust with communities they serve and jeopardizing public safety funding that state and federal officials hold hostage to get their way,” Valdez said. “That’s not how government should work.”

Noting that she remained “steadfast” in her call for immigration reform and building trust with immigrant communities, Valdez touted her opposition to the state’s sanctuary cities ban and said she had been on the front lines in opposing the law.  

Valdez said she would continue outreach to immigrant communities as governor and fight “cruel policies like SB 4 [the sanctuary cities ban] — a policy based on fear that only serves to tear our communities apart.”

John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, said in a statement Tuesday: “This is not the first time Sheriff Valdez has made clear her intention to eviscerate Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities and it won’t be the last. This November, voters will have a choice over whether they want to turn Texas into a sanctuary state in the mold of California or uphold the Rule of Law and keep Texas the model for the rest of the nation.”

Valdez said in her statement that Abbott had “directly threatened” to cut her department’s funding because she had proposed changes to how the sheriff’s office complied with requests from immigration authorities.  

“While I was sheriff of Dallas County, I complied with detainers or else we could have risked funding for a range of resources, including drug courts, juvenile justice programs, and body cameras,” Valdez said. “I didn’t have the ability to change federal or state policy, and Governor Abbott got his way.

“I wish we could have done more, and that is why I am such an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” she continued. “I have stood side-by-side with immigrant communities and fought against cruel and shameful policies. I have done what I believed to be possible. I have been fighting for years, and I am not stopping now.”

As a daughter of immigrants, Valdez said she understands the distrust between the community and law enforcement. She added that during her law enforcement career, she’s proved to be “tough, but compassionate.” She said standing up for immigrant communities and ensuring they did not suffer the “cruel and inhumane” treatment her family had experienced was a staple of her life.

“I have lived it, and it is my goal to make sure that young Texans don’t face that same treatment I witnessed years ago,” she said.

Defending her record as sheriff, Valdez said she pushed for policies to ease detentions for minor offenses. She said she declined to designate local officers as immigration authorities under federal partnerships, known as 287(g) programs, and encouraged law enforcement officials to end nonessential collaboration with immigration authorities.