Beto O'Rourke tells students about his life, plans for immigration reform

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Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Democratic Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke told UT students on Friday afternoon about growing up in the “greatest binational community in the world:” El Paso.

After several months of planning, Tejas Club brought O’Rourke, the U.S. representative for El Paso, to speak during their weekly lecture series, Tejas Coffee. Hundreds of students crammed into the Student Activity Center auditorium to hear about O’Rourke’s life and to discuss issues such as student debt and immigration.

“This is a great opportunity to host one of our state’s — and hopefully one of our country’s — leaders,” said Jackson Clifford, Tejas vice president and accounting graduate student. “I consider myself more of a moderate … I really align well with people who have the best interests of Americans in mind, and I do think that Congressman O’Rourke is for American people.”

O’Rourke started by talking about his home, praising El Paso’s low crime rates and its diversity built off of immigration. He said after leaving his home to attend school in New York, he came back to realize how much he’d taken many of his people’s “amazing stories” as immigrants for granted.

“There was so much amazing music and art and culture that was coming out of El Paso, Texas, unlike anything, anywhere else in the world,” O’Rourke said. 

O’Rourke then compared his own political career to the aspirations of college students. He encouraged students to take chances and pursue something that they love — even if it’s risky — because there’s always a chance their dream could come true.

“We’re taking the long shot of all long shots, and, for the first time in 30 years, trying to send a Democrat to represent the state of Texas in the U.S. Senate,” O’Rourke said. “Pursue your full potential, whatever it’s going to be.”

Throughout the question-and-answer session following O’Rourke’s initial speech, attendees shared worries about the future of “Dreamers,” or undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as minors. President Donald Trump recently declared his intention to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in six months.

O’Rourke said DACA can easily pass both the U.S. House and Senate but that it will only come with compromise, something he is more than willing to engage in.

“The clock is ticking, and it’s up to Texas and the rest of the country to act (to preserve DACA),” O’Rourke said. “But it can’t stop there, right? We absolutely have to continue with a rewriting comprehensively of our immigration law to reflect our values.”

In an interview with Texan editor-in-chief Laura Hallas, O’Rourke said students who are fortunate enough to attend four-year universities should not be crushed with debt when they leave. He said he believes the American people are willing to pay for the cost of higher education when they recognize the benefit of an educated society.

“The cost of education shouldn’t be able to preclude anyone from pursuing it,” O’Rourke said. “(Student debt) is just stupid because if you think about this as an investment, the return is many times over greater than the initial cost.”

After the event, O’Rourke spent about an hour meeting with students so they could take photos with him and personally share their concerns.

Zoe Ng, electrical and computer engineering junior, said she was happy to get to meet O’Rourke in person. She’s followed his campaign since the spring and said she hopes O’Rourke manages to replace Senate Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

“It’s inspiring to see how (O’Rourke) goes to all the small towns and talks to everyone, not just big cities,” Ng said. “(And Cruz) is just the worst … All of the policies that he supports are not the best for people in Texas. With everything that Beto has said today, I feel like he would be a much better representative.”