ALBUQUERQUE – Since winning a closely watched election in New Mexico three months ago, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small hasn’t garnered the same amount of attention as other freshmen in Congress.
The Las Cruces Democrat isn’t followed around the Capitol by herds of reporters like Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She’s rarely in magazine photo shoots, like U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Boston or Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, also Democrats.
But Torres Small, who represents a sprawling swing district along the U.S-Mexico border, said in an interview last week she doesn’t mind getting less attention than other freshmen in Congress. Torres Small said she has other goals like finding fixes to immigration and border security.
“I’m not trying to be the loudest,” Torres Small said. “I’m interested in finding solutions and I’m willing to work with anyone.”
Some of those solutions she supports are in contrast to policies advocated by Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley. Both have pushed for the federal government to defund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Torres Small said she’s honored to serve among a diverse set of representatives with different views on immigration but believes the call to defund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is “unrealistic.”
Torres Small, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and who grew up Mormon, said ICE needs more resources with more oversight.
She cited an uptick in Central American migrants seeking asylum after coming into the U.S. through the isolated Antelope Wells border crossing in southwestern New Mexico. The increase in migrants has put a strain on border patrol agents who work in the isolated region and have encountered migrants needed immediate medical attention.
“The situation in Antelope Wells and expansion of traffic shows why (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) needs to adapt to changing circumstances,” Torres Small said.
Antelope Wells is where 7-year-old Jakelin Caal and her father were found Dec. 6 with 161 others near the border crossing. Caal started vomiting on the bus ride to the nearest Border Patrol station 94 miles away and had stopped breathing by the time she arrived. She died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas.
Last week, Torres Small was named chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Oversight, Management, and Accountability Subcommittee. Torres Small said as chair she wants to find ways that Customs and Border Protection can recruit more qualified staff for remote areas while holding the agency accountable.
The congresswoman said she wants to make sure the agency treats migrants humanely and gives them medical treatment.
Torres Small isn’t winning over the Republican Party of New Mexico, which plans on targeting the Democrat in the 2020 election.
Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce, who used to hold Torres Small’s seat, said she isn’t the “independent voice” she claims to be and still follows the Democratic line. He points to her support for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Her reflexive support for San Francisco radical Nancy Pelosi shows she is totally beholden to the liberal special interests who bankrolled her campaign,” Pearce said in a statement.