O'Rourke puts immigration, Trump at center of kickoff rally

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) put President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE’s immigration policies front and center at his formal presidential campaign launch Saturday, heaping praise on what he says are the advantages of welcoming migrants into the country.

Speaking to a packed crowd in the border town of El Paso, which he represented in the House for six years, O’Rourke extolled the impact immigrants had on his hometown, underscoring a contrast with Trump’s rhetoric regarding immigrants and his recent threats to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border

"With Ciudad Juárez we form the largest binational community in this hemisphere. And for 20 years running, we’ve been one of the safest cities in the United States of America," O’Rourke said. "We are safe not despite the fact that we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers. We are safe because we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers."

"We have learned not to fear our differences but to respect and embrace them. We see the languages spoken in this community, the traditions, the cultures as a strength for El Paso.”

O’Rourke’s comments on immigration came a day after Trump unleashed his latest salvo against congressional Democrats over immigration, blaming them for promoting "weak" immigration laws and ramping up his threats to close the southern border.


"The DEMOCRATS have given us the weakest immigration laws anywhere in the World. Mexico has the strongest, & they make more than $100 Billion a year on the U.S. Therefore, CONGRESS MUST CHANGE OUR WEAK IMMIGRATION LAWS NOW, & Mexico must stop illegals from entering the U.S.," Trump said in a Friday morning tweetstorm.

"Mexico has for many years made a fortune off of the U.S., far greater than Border Costs. If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States [through] our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week," he added.

Trump has drawn harsh rebukes from Democrats during his White House tenure over his comments on immigrants, including referring to some Mexicans as "rapists" during his campaign, as well as his policies at the border, including separating families in detention and vowing to build a wall.

O’Rourke has less congressional experience than several of his Democratic primary opponents, though he is banking on the name recognition he garnered during an insurgent Senate bid in 2018 that shattered fundraising records and transfixed the Democratic base to contend with over a dozen other Democrats seeking he party’s nomination.

The Texas Democrat blasted the administration’s signature immigration policies on Saturday in the first of a string of campaign rallies to launch his campaign, using a nearby bridge under which migrants are detained as a metaphor for the kind of platforms he would reverse as president.

"Let us reunite every single one of those families that are still separated today. And let’s remember that every single one of us, including those who are just three or four blocks from here, detained under the international bridge that connects us with Mexico, behind chain-link fence and barbed wire, that they are our fellow human beings and deserve to be treated like our fellow human beings," he said. 

"We will find security not through walls, not through militarization. We will find security by focusing on our ports of entry," he added. "If we are really serious about security, we have a golden opportunity — Republicans, independents, Democrats alike — to work on comprehensive immigration reform, to rewrite this country’s immigration laws in our own image with our own values and in the best traditions of the United States of America."

O’Rourke cast himself as a unifier who would reverse societal divisions he said Trump has sparked.

"For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless. They have used fear and division in the same way that our current president uses fear and division based on the differences between us of race, of ethnicity, of geography or religion to keep us apart, to keep us angry, to make us afraid of ourselves and of one another," he said. 

"So whatever our differences — where you live, who you love, to whom you pray, for whom you voted in the last election — let those differences not define us or divide us at this moment. Let’s agree before going forward, before anything else, we are Americans first. We’re Americans first, and we will put the business of this country before us."

O’Rourke also went after the White House’s foreign policies, saying he would shun relationships with "dictators" and make efforts to rejuvenate alliances that have atrophied under the weight of Trump’s grievances over trade imbalances or shared defense spending. 

"We have to once again reassert our role on the world stage in order to do this, but if we’re going to do that, we’ve got to strengthen these historic friendships and alliances," he said. "Let’s end these love affairs with dictators and strongmen all over the world."

Although O’Rourke was able to haul in $6.1 million within the first 24 hours after announcing his campaign earlier this month and consistently polls in the top tier of statewide and national polls, he has struggled to surpass Trump or open up large leads against the president in surveys of key states.