COMMENTARY: Congressman defends his shutdown vote


Each one of us must make difficult choices in life. As a member of Congress, I make tough calls every day.

Last week, The Monitor published an editorial that questioned my vote to keep the government open. This issue was real and we could not have it both ways. My vote took much fortitude while leadership worked toward an agreement on the budget and a resolution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

During my first year in Congress, I have worked with an unconventional president, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and House leadership to negotiate a deal on DACA. I have also adamantly opposed the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last year, I brought Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to the Rio Grande Valley to visit with La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and Central American refugees at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen. I also partnered with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, to “Build Bridges, Not Walls,” and worked with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, to support commonsense solutions for border security, and to improve our nation’s relations with Mexico and Central America.

Above all, my No. 1 responsibility is to represent every person living in the 15th District of Texas. That responsibility is carried out, in part, through the votes I take and the bills I sponsor and co-sponsor.

I sponsored the Dream Act, and support every bill I believe helps Dreamers earn a pathway to citizenship.

Each vote and every decision requires serious deliberation and a thorough understanding of what the district needs. My vote last week to keep the federal government open was no exception.

Many of my colleagues used the government shutdown as a power play, which did nothing but hurt the very people we were elected to help. The debate between Democrats and Republicans led many to believe that this situation was black and white.

On one side there was the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program designed for the working poor. These families don’t qualify for Medicaid but are still too poor to afford insurance through the marketplace. On the other side were the Dreamers — young undocumented people who were brought to this country as children.

This reckless exercise wrongly pitted 9 million children against 800,000 DACA recipients. As an advocate for both, I found this troubling. No one should ever be used as a bargaining chip.

We owe the American people a government that delivers. By voting to open the government, I voted to bring six years of certainty to CHIP recipients and get Washington working again. No parent should be forced to worry about whether they can afford to take their child to the doctor or get lifesaving care.

I voted “yes” so that Congress could intensify its efforts to pass legislation that protects our nation’s Dreamers. When we shut down our government, we divert energy, time and resources away from important tasks at hand. A vote to shut down the government would be a vote to turn our backs on children, people with disabilities, senior citizens, military personnel, veterans, and their families. I would vote “yes” all over again.

We now have two deadlines fast approaching and much work to do in a short period of time. Congress has until Feb. 8 to agree to a longterm budget. We have until March 5 to provide a path forward for Dreamers: our fellow Americans.

Now let’s be thankful for this six-year extension of CHIP and work diligently to enact the Dream Act.