NY-21 Democratic congressional candidate Emily Martz took time out of campaigning for next Tuesday’s primary to visit the U.S.-Mexico border this week to get a look for herself at the issue of children being separated from their asylum-seeking parents.
“The best way to learn is by experiencing something, immersing yourself in whatever it is you’re trying to learn about, and this is the greatest American tragedy we’ve seen for decades,” said Martz, who lives in Saranac Lake.
Martz and Christopher DiMezzo, her communications director, left Albany International Airport on Monday to travel down to El Paso. Martz said her group had to drive from Tucson, Arizona to El Paso, Texas because of a flight cancellation. They arrived just in time to join a protest of more than 300 local leaders who walked down to the Department of Homeland Security office.
She met a woman who grew up in Juarez, Mexico and would travel back and forth between Mexico and the United States. She received her education in the United States. Cross-border commuting occurs on a regular basis, according to Martz.
“People from Juarez come over daily to work and then they return to their home,” she said. “People in the United States will go over to Juarez to go shopping, to bring money for family members.”
Both communities are dependent on each other, according to Martz. She said that despite this regular flow of people back and forth, El Paso has ranked as one of the safest cities in the country.
A group of women took Martz and her group around a tour of downtown El Paso and showed a section of the border wall.
“There was nobody trying to climb over it,” she said.
She then took a trip to the detention center in Tornillo where some young male children were being held. She spoke with officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The temperature was over 100 degrees, she said.
“It’s hard to imagine just what the temperatures must be like in the tents,” she said.
She saw chain-link fences in the middle of the desert and children separated from their families.
“It’s government-sanctioned child abuse and it’s being sanctioned by every member of our Congress who refuses to speak up, and that includes our current congresswoman,” she said.
Martz and DiMezzo returned on Wednesday evening.
Martz said U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, needs to lead on this issue and stand up for American values.
Martz is one of five Democrats running in Tuesday’s primary. The others are Tedra Cobb of Canton; Patrick Nelson of Stillwater; Dylan Ratigan of Lake Placid; and Katie Wilson of Keene.
Martz said she believes it was worth taking time out from campaigning for the trip.
“Knowing how deeply this is affecting members of our own community on a personal level, I wanted to carry our voices down to the people down in El Paso,” she said.
She said they, in turn, were grateful to see that someone from the northern border came down to see the situation.
“I was humbled to be able to bring back their appreciation and their stories and a better understanding of the issue,” she said.
Stefanik spokesman Tom Flanagin said the congresswoman would not be available to discuss immigration issues with The Post-Star until Friday. He referred questions about Martz’s border visit to Stefanik’s campaign office.
Stefanik campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar said Stefanik has led a bipartisan effort to push for immigration reform and signed a discharge petition in an effort to bring bills to the floor. She supports the compromise bill that would address immigrants protected under the DACA program, fund border security and end the separation of families at the border.
“False, partisan attacks from liberal candidates struggling on the eve of a weak Democratic primary election do nothing to solve our immigration challenges,” he said.