EL PASO, Texas — When Rep. Veronica Escobar thinks of her hometown, what comes to mind is the more than 100-year-old dairy farm that generations of Escobars have owned and worked.
Escobar, who grew up in this border city on Texas’ westernmost tip, thinks of her father delivering milk even while working as the El Paso County engineer. She thinks of fun nights in high school in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just a short walk across a bridge spanning the Rio Grande.
And she thinks of the many international gateways between the U.S. and Mexico, what she calls “arteries” for family, commerce, economy and the future.
What Escobar, 49, a Democrat, didn’t see growing up and living in El Paso was a city so teeming with violent crime that it had to be saved by building a border wall — something President Donald Trump called for in his State of the Union address.
“It is one of the greatest communities in all of America. The border is such a magical, complex place,” Escobar told MSNBC and NBC News in interviews over two days. “You know, it’s this place where two worlds are juxtaposed.”
Those worlds — El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — couldn’t be more different, but the ports of entry where pedestrian and vehicle traffic flows both ways are “symbols of unity and togetherness,” she said.
Escobar, a freshman Democrat, made history along with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, also a Democrat, in the 2018 midterm elections by becoming the first two Latinas elected to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since Escobar arrived in Washington, El Paso has become an epicenter of Trump’s immigration battle.
Beyond erecting thicker, higher and more barriers to close off the border, the city is next door to Tornillo, Texas, where hundreds of young migrant children were held for months in tents.
Beyond that, before Trump’s administration told the public it was separating children from their parents on the border, it ran a pilot project in El Paso that took the children into government custody.
That has thrust Escobar and her border city in the middle of an epic tug of war between Congress and the executive branch.
But she was in a similar fight before, one that put her on a political track that led to Congress.
CLIMBING ALFALFA PLANTS, JOINING THE POLITICAL RANKS
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of Texas, El Paso, Escobar left El Paso to study at New York University.
She earned her master’s there in the same subject and then returned home with a plan to earn a little money and head to the West Coast to study Chicano literature, earn a doctorate and join academia.
But back in El Paso, she found her hometown in the throes of a national debate over immigration.
The Border Patrol was sending agents into Bowie High School in El Paso, to check whether students were citizens and to follow them to their homes in a neighborhood known as the Segundo Barrio, also right on the border, Escobar said.
The actions led to a lawsuit, and changes were made but talk began of a building a wall in El Paso.
Escobar said she saw members of a local group, the Border Rights Coalition, fight back. They documented abuses, educated people about the ongoing debate, connected them with classes in English as a Second Language and citizenship, and taught them their rights.
This article originally appeared on NBC