EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris visited the Rio Grande Valley on the South Texas border on Friday afternoon during the last day of early voting and spoke to an outdoor drive-thru rally about racial inequalities, economic injustices and mistreatment of minorities and migrants that she says has occurred under President Donald Trump’s administration.
“It’s time to reject hate and division,” Harris told the gathering of 200 cars, each with multiple occupants, many of whom got out of their vehicles or sat on top of them to get a glimpse of the first female minority to run for the second-highest office in the land.
“We need to speak truth,” Harris told the mostly Hispanic crowd during a 30-minute speech held in a parking lot outside the the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley campus field house.
Her speech mostly focused on the high rate of COVID-19 fatalities in South Texas, high poverty rate and economic inequalities suffered by this region. She urged supporters to vote early — and to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — before Friday night’s early balloting deadline. And she urged participants to remind everyone in their families to vote on Election Day, which is Tuesday.
“It’s important to vote to honor the ancestors who fought for the protection of ‘Dreamers’ and a pathway to citizenship,” Harris said.
She is the daughter of immigrants. Her mother is from India. Her father is from Jamaica. But she didn’t mention that when she visited on Friday. Her husband Doug Emhoff, however, had relayed her story when he made a stop in Edinburg on Oct. 5 to rally for the Biden/Harris ticket.
Harris criticized the Trump administration for its child separation policy it implemented in 2018 for incoming undocumented migrants, of whom there are still reportedly over 500 children who have not been reunited with their parents.
“They know our power and we know our power and we will not let anyone take our power from us And that is the reason we are here today in the RGV to celebrate each other,” Harris said.
During a visit to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to celebrate the completion of the 400th mile of new border wall, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf defended the Trump administration’s immigration polices saying Trump had “inherited a broken and outdated immigration system that incentivized smuggling of aliens.”
Wolf added that the undocumented children who remain separated from their parents in the United States is because the parents wish it so. He said wishes the children could be sent back to their home countries, if the parents wanted.
“Not one has asked to be reunited. They have decided to stay separated,” Wolf said.
Leading up to Harris’ appearance on Friday were several speeches by well-known politicians from Texas and South Texas. This included twin brothers U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Julian Castro, who served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso who also made an attempt for the Democratic presidential nomination, bowed on his knees to Harris after her speech and danced with lively Latin music.
U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, both Democrats from South Texas, also spoke, as did M.J. Hegar, a Democrat who is trying to oust U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
O’Rourke spoke to the crowd in Spanish and got much applause. He said he has fond memories of “la frontera” and eating tacos while campaigning here. He said this region has gotten an unfair rap because it is on the border. But he defended it as safe and family-oriented.
“This community has bore the brunt of racisms of Donald Trump,” O’Rourke said.
“There’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of hate,” Hegar said. She referenced recent polls that show Biden actually leading Trump in Texas by as much as 4 percent. This includes a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monda that has pundits puzzling whether Texas — a traditionally solid red-voting state — could turn blue on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“We say adios to Donald Trump for good. Let’s make it happen,” Julian Castro told the crowd, which were entertained by mariachi music and the smell of fresh corn tortillas permeated the crisp afternoon air.
Castro’s brother talked about losing a close family member to COVID-19, and accused the Trump administration of neglecting this region. “We need to send a statement to Texas and to the world that we believe in Kamala Harris and Joe Biden and we will stand up to any politician who slanders the border region.”
Several speakers, including Harris, referenced Trump calling Mexicans “rapists” and dangerous to society as he launched his first presidential bid in 2015.
Harris reiterated the high number of COVID-related deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, which has a fatality rate of 18.2%, according to Gonzalez.
“Latinos are dying at a higher rate of COVID,” Harris said. “We are fighting for the country we love and we know we are better than this. There’s so much at stake in this election. … “We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do this.”
Everyone was required to wear masks during Friday’s event. Some in the crowd chanted “Lock him up,” when Trump’s name was mentioned. And Secret Service had to constantly push the crowd back as they tried to surge the stage, which was decorated with signs that read: “Todos con Biden Harris.”
A giant backdrop near the stage read: Vota Texas.
Chants from Trump supporters, as well as car honking and air horns also could be heard from an opposing rally held in a nearby field also on campus. Local police were called and kept the two sides at bay as both yelled at one another and waved flags for their candidate.
UTRGV student Clarissa Conde, a field organizer with the youth voting group Texas Rising, which helped to organize Friday’s event, said young Hispanic voters want “a more resilient and compassionate Texas and a more equitable Texas that fights for social justice.” She said they want a president who will “protect DACA,” and provide a pathway to citizenship for migrants, and one that “cannot stand for extreme wealth disparities.”
Harris stopped in South Texas on Friday after speaking in Fort Worth earlier in the day. She was then heading to Houston on Friday evening.