HERNDON, VIRGINIA — Through his practice in northern Virginia, immigration attorney Hassan Ahmad has seen how difficult life can be for undocumented immigrants in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Ahmad defends clients who are facing deportation proceedings, acting as an advocate for people whom the federal government has targeted and maligned with hateful rhetoric.
The demographics of Virginia’s affluent, suburban 10th district have been changing in recent years: a growing population of immigrants is making the district more diverse. And Hassan said that Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is not a lawmaker who represents the diversifying electorate.
“I don’t feel comfortable sending my clients to their immigration liaison because I don’t believe Barbara Comstock sees immigrants as a part of the community,” he told ThinkProgress. “Why would I want to send my clients to a congresswoman who might have a connection with the local immigration agency but who is not going to feel that my client is a full participant in the American experience?”
The path for Democrats to retake the House this November runs through a few dozen key districts, many in affluent suburbs where conservative voters are losing their foothold. Few exemplify those swing districts better than Virginia’s 10th district.
Cook Political Report recently changed the projection for the district from “toss-up” to a likely Democratic win. Across the country, nine Republican House seats are categorized as leaning Democratic, but Comstock is the only incumbent in one of those districts.
On Tuesday night, members of the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia (a Democrats party committee) and Latino voters gathered in a supporter’s home in the district to support Democrat Jennifer Wexton, a white woman who speaks Spanish and who supporters say has taken the right steps to win Latino voters’ support. They say Comstock, who has served the district in Congress for two terms, has done the opposite.
“She’s voted the party line ninety-plus percent of the time,” Ahmad said. “She bought into the narrative of MS-13 as a fodder for fears and sees all Latinos as potentially complicit and that they have to somehow prove their innocence before they can be welcomed as part of society.”
Wexton, who said she is reaching out to voters who Comstock has ignored, agreed.
“For Barbara Comstock, the Latino community is nothing more than MS-13,” she said. “That’s the legislation she’s patroned, that’s the Republican playbook, that’s what we saw in 2017 races, that’s what we’ve seen with their pandering and fear-mongering and race-baiting.”
Wexton, a former prosecutor, has served in Virginia’s state Senate since 2014. She is endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and has campaigning on the strength of her resume.
“Jennifer Wexton has the best chance of picking up a Democratic seat in the country,” Monique Alcala, the chair of the Virginia Democrats’ Latino group, said Tuesday night, introducing the candidate.
Voters told ThinkProgress that Comstock has been able to win in the district twice because she has convinced people that she is a moderate. But she has accepted over $100,000 from the National Rifle Association, sided with the Trump administration on countless policy debates, and has held no towns halls or made any efforts to reach out to constituents of color.
“One of the silver linings of Trump’s presidency is that people are actually looking behind what Barbara Comstock says and looking at what she actually does.”
“One of the silver linings of Trump’s presidency is that people are actually looking behind what Barbara Comstock says and looking at what she actually does,” Wexton told ThinkProgress. “She’s out of step with her constituents on so many issues.”
Evelyn BruMar, a Brentsville, Va. resident who is active in Democratic politics, said Comstock has only been paying attention to certain constituents.
“The community is changing and growing, but she’s not changing and growing,” she said. “Wexton has tapped in and is able to … be the amplifier to the voices of this community.”
Virginia’s 10th district is roughly 12 percent Hispanic and encompassed communities like Manassas Park, which is more than one-third Latino. During Comstock’s terms, the district has grown increasingly Democratic — Hillary Clinton won it by 9.8 points in 2016 and Northam won by 13 points the following year.
To replicate that kind of success, Wexton said she understands that the Latino voter turnout will be essential. Elizabeth Guzman, the first Latina woman to serve in Virginia’s legislature, explained to the crowd Tuesday that when she decided to run, she was told Latinos who make up 14 percent of her district don’t turn out to vote Despite those perceptions, Guzman said 14 percent of her winning electorate turned out to be Latino.
If she were to be elected to Congress, Wexton told ThinkProgress she would push for a “clean DACA bill” to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who arrived under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“We need comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “There’s always been so much cowardliness in Washington and an inability to get things done.”
More importantly, voters said they hope Wexton will be part of a new wave of lawmakers who can shift the national dialogue about immigration.
“I’m hoping we can shift this conversation back and start talking about immigration from a place of compassion, instead of exclusion,” Ahmad said. “From a place of inclusivity as opposed to hatred.”