Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has declared that immigrants make the country safer as he staged rallies across Texas to formally kick off his 2020 White House bid.
The former congressman, who represented El Paso for three House terms until last year, began the day addressing 1,000-plus supporters in his hometown, across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
He later spoke at historically black Texas Southern University in Houston, before heading to Austin for a third event in the shadow of the red-granite state Capitol.
Bounding onto a makeshift El Paso stage in a blue button-down shirt to The Clash’s Clampdown, Mr O’Rourke declared: “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,” he told a crowd that waved small American flags and black-and-white signs reading Viva Beto.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Mr Trump warned he could close the US southern border next week “if Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States”.
In later comments to reporters he added: “We’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games.”
Mr O’Rourke has made promoting the border as culturally rich and economically powerful the centrepiece of his campaign and spoke on a street corner a few blocks from it.
He decried federal officials’ recent decisions to hold people who crossed into the US to seek asylum “in cages” under El Paso’s international bridges, saying those detainees “are our fellow human beings and deserve to be treated as our fellow human beings”.
Mr O’Rourke entered the race on March 14 and has already visited nine states, but had promised to return to El Paso for an official kickoff.
As he has previously, he renewed calls to work with Republicans and Democrats, saying “before anything else, we are Americans first” and prompting chants of “USA! USA!”.
But he also made bolder predictions than in the past, saying that if his campaign could bring people from across the ideological spectrum together he could top the rest of the crowded Democratic 2020 presidential field and “defeat Donald Trump”.
Despite such nods to bipartisanism, however, Mr O’Rourke offered many positions on Saturday that were liberal enough to make moderates nervous.
He vowed to legalise marijuana nationally, defend abortion rights, strengthen unions and bring home all troops from the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also renewed his support for a House proposal called Medicare for America, which he says will guarantee universal health care coverage while allowing people who like getting insurance through their employer to continue doing so.
Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in 25 years. But the party is hoping that a booming Hispanic population and large numbers of new residents moving in from other states could keep Texas close in 2020 — potentially reshaping the electoral college.
“This state and its 38 electoral votes count like they’ve never counted before,” Mr O’Rourke said in El Paso. “All of us matter.”