Texas congressman Filemon Vela is not happy with Donald Trump—and that's putting it very, very mildly.
The two-term Democrat, who represents Texas's 34th congressional district along the state's far southeastern border, penned a fiercely worded open letter to the presumptive Republican nominee and former Celebrity Apprentice host on Monday in which he bluntly called Trump a racist and told him to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”
Vela began the letter by citing some areas of policy agreement between himself and Trump, including deficiencies in the Department of Veterans Affairs's ability to provide medical care to service members and the need for both the U.S. and Mexican governments to address drug cartel-related violence. “However,” Vela wrote, “your ignorant anti-immigrant opinions, your border wall rhetoric, and your recent bigoted attack on an American jurist are just plain despicable.”
“Your position with respect to the millions of undocumented Mexican workers who now live in this country is hateful, dehumanizing, and frankly shameful,” Vela charged. “The vast number of these individuals work in hotels, restaurants, construction sites, and agricultural fields across the United States. If I had to guess, your own business enterprises either directly or indirectly employ more of these workers than most other businesses in our country. ... That is precisely why the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees that these workers deserve a national immigration policy that would give them a pathway to citizenship.”
Vela's reference to undocumented immigrants working at construction sites is likely resurface as the 2016 presidential campaign moves from dueling primary battles to a head-to-head between Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the early 1980s, Trump faced a lawsuit from a labor union over his use of hundreds of undocumented Polish immigrants for the construction of Trump Tower in Manhattan. The workers faced unsafe working conditions, and many claimed they were never paid for their work.
The lawsuit was settled in 1999, but in the midst of the primary campaign, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz slammed Trump over the incident. In a recent episode of the popular podcast Keepin' It 1600, hosted by former Obama administration officials Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri mentioned Trump's use of undocumented immigrants as one of the Clinton campaign's many strategies for assailing the Republican candidate in the general election.
Vela, who noted that his ancestors came to the United States prior to Trump's, declared in his open letter that the issue on which Trump built his campaign—the need for a border wall stretching the length of the U.S.-Mexico border—would negatively affect the critical economic relationship between the two countries, which accounted for $500 billion in trade in 2015.
“Why any modern-thinking person would ever believe that building a wall along the border of a neighboring country, which is both our ally and one of our largest trading partners, is frankly astounding and asinine,” Vela wrote.
Vela isn't the only member of Congress from a Mexican border district who is deeply skeptical of Trump's plan to build a wall there.
Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents a district stretching along the border in east Texas, dismissed Trump's call for a massive physical barrier between the two countries as unnecessary and counterproductive.
“It is the most expensive and least effective to do border security,” Hurd told the Daily Dot in an interview earlier this year. “We can secure our border and facilitate the movement of goods and services at the same time. Mexico is an important partner of ours. We need to be doing everything we can to increase trade and increase traffic and increase people-to-people connections. The idea of building a wall is silly. A wall is a tool in some places, but there are much more sophisticated ways of protecting our border.”
Vela took personal offense at Trump's recent attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University. The controversy over the university, which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called "a fraud from beginning to end," represents another potent avenue of attack for Clinton—and Trump's comments about Judge Curiel are only giving her more ammunition.
Trump has asserted that Curiel should recuse himself from the case because, as a “Mexican,” the judge cannot be impartial due to Trump's position on border security. Even though Curiel was born in Indiana, Trump insists that his race precludes him from rendering fair judgments in the trial.
This race-based attack on Curiel has drawn strong rebukes from national Republican leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he hoped Trump would “change his direction,” while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is the odds-on favorite to be Trump's running mate, called it “inexcusable.”
For Vela, whose father was one of the first Mexican-American judges ever appointed to the federal bench, Trump's attack on Curial was especially egregious.
“You have now descended to a new low in your racist attack of an American jurist, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, by calling him a 'Mexican' simply because he ruled against you in a case in which you are being accused of fraud, among other accusations,” Vela wrote. “Judge Curiel is one of 124 Americans of Hispanic descent who have served this country with honor and distinction as federal district judges.”
Vela ended his letter with the simple and straightforward plea that is drawing the most attention of all his remarks.
“I will not presume to speak on behalf of every American of Mexican descent, for every undocumented worker born in Mexico who is contributing to our country every day or, for that matter, every decent citizen in Mexico,” he concluded. “But, I am sure that many of these individuals would agree with me when I say: ‘Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.’”