EDINBURG, RGV – At a campaign event at El Pato in Edinburg on Thursday, gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott was handed a letter urging him to visit the colonias of the Rio Grande Valley.

The letter was presented to Abbott by John-Michael Torres, a community outreach worker for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a non-profit that works with and for colonia residents in Hidalgo County.

“If Attorney General Abbott aspires to be governor of this great state, he should understand that a major part of Hidalgo County is our colonia community. He should understand that reality, visit the colonias, visit with the residents and talk to them about what they need from the state government of Texas,” Torres said.

Torres pointed out that in his remarks Abbott said he wanted help from his supporters in the Valley to achieve his goal of getting a record number of Hispanic voters. Former Governor George W. Bush holds that record. He secured 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas in his successful re-election bid in 1998.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero community organizer John-Michael Torres hands a letter to gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott at El Pato in Edinburg.
La Unión del Pueblo Entero community organizer John-Michael Torres hands a letter to gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott at El Pato in Edinburg.

“To get a record number of Hispanic votes, General Abbott will need to engage with Hispanic communities, to engage with colonia residents, to engage with the communities that are most in need of help at the state level, so they can succeed, so they can get ahead,” Torres said.

When Torres handed over LUPE’s letter and called on Abbott to visit the colonias, the candidate listened politely and responded with this: “I have actually been to colonias across the state of Texas, from the Rio Grande to Nueces County, to other parts of the state because of the authority vested in me as Attorney General. I have been fighting back against some of the developers of colonias, trying to clean up the problem. So, I am very familiar with many of the challenges they face.”

But, will you come to the colonias, Torres asked again. Abbott responded: “The good news is I have had the opportunity to be in their yards, to visit with them, to shake their hands, to look them in the eye and hear first-hand the challenges they face, the needs that they have and the legal tools we have been using to help try to protect them from the abuses. We will continue the effort. Thank you, man.”

After the exchange Torres was interviewed by the Guardian, Univision and Telemundo. Asked what issues colonia residents want to talk to Abbott about, Torres said Medicaid Expansion, Driver’s Licenses, DPS checkpoints, the DREAM Act, Housing, and Street Lights.

“Our members need Medicaid expanded to get the medical coverage they need for their families, a driver’s license so they can get to work safely with auto insurance without fear of being deported, and higher education, the passage of the DREAM Act to get financial aid from the state so they can go to college with in-state tuition,” Torres said.

“If General Abbott understands the needs of the colonias he would not be advocating spending an additional $300 million on the Department of Public Safety so they can do more border surges? We have seen the negative impact that had on our border communities, especially the colonias.”

Elijah Casas is Republican candidate for Texas House District 41, which is centered in McAllen. Casas was at the Abbott campaign event and is a big supporter of his gubernatorial campaign. Casas told the Guardian that Abbott needs to visit the Valley’s colonias.

“Every part of the Rio Grande Valley should have a visit from their prospective governor and from their representatives, their congressmen. We need to take the time to reach out to everybody. Every opinion counts, we all live together. We need to have input from all sorts of backgrounds. When we come together we share ideas. We come out better as a people,” Casas said.