Arizona GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko Takes Flak for Equating Hispanics With Undocumented Migrants

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) is facing backlash after making inflammatory comments about Hispanic people, equating them with undocumented migrants.

In a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on February 11, Lesko said Hispanics were "very good workers" but implied they weren't American citizens. The comittee was debating who should be prioritised to receive the COVID-19 vaccines first.

"I worked with people that are Hispanic. I mean they're very good workers," Lesko said. "You know, we're compassionate people, but for goodness sakes, we have to take care of American citizens, or people that are here legally, first.

"I'm just not going to be able to explain to my senior citizens that we're giving away the vaccines to people that (are) here illegally. I just think that's totally wrong."

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Hispanic lawmaker who represents Arizona's 7th Congressional district, condemned her remarks on Twitter.

"In a state that is 30 percent Latino she can't even claim to have Latino friends. Just worked with them," Gallego said on Sunday.

Gallego has asked the Biden administration to distribute vaccines directly to Community Health Centers in his district that serve low income and minority neighborhoods.

Jane Delgado, CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, called Lesko's comments "both irresponsible and ignorant."

"She compromises the health of the entire nation as any public health intervention must include all the people who live in the community...especially the essential workers, a larger proportion of whom are Hispanics," Delgado told Newsweek.

"In the United States there are 19 million Asian Americans, 44 million African Americans, and 60 million Hispanics; that means 1 of 6 people in the U.S. are Hispanic and 90 percent are U.S. citizens," she added.

On Monday, Lesko tweeted that it was "outrageous" that Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo "continues to refuse to take responsibility for his COVER-UP of horrific COVID-19 nursing home data."

John Ronquillo, a Hispanic assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, replied saying: "About as outrageous as you saying Americans need the vaccine before Hispanics. Are there no American Hispanics? Do you know your state's history or demographics?"

CPR News host Vic Vela tweeted: "My family's New Mexican and Coloradan roots predate the earliest New England colonies. And like all Chicanos, we have Native blood. Most Brown folks in the southwest are natives of the southwest. We are from here. Now, where are you from, representative?"

Delina DiSanto, an Arizona Democrat running for Congress, said on Twitter: "This goes to show you, we have uneducated legislators who spew these comments. People pay attention to these U.S. Reps,@RepDLesko ,@RepGosar ,@RepAndyBiggsAZ & believe them. If you're seeing this Debbie, talk to a medical professional. You don't know what you're talking about."

Former Nogales, Arizona Mayor Marco Lopez condemned Lesko, accusing her of dangerous, xenophobic thinking" and being "wrong and out of touch."

"Covid19 does not distinguish on who gets infected. I don't know what part of EVERYONE needing to get vaccinated, as soon as possible, is difficult to understand and explain," Lopez tweeted.

Newsweek has contacted Rep. Lesko for comment.

Lesko made her remarks after Republicans pushed an amendment to a Democratic bill that would mean American citizens were prioritised to get the COVID-19 vaccine first. The amendment did not pass after Democrats said it would not slow the spread of the coronavirus because many undocumented immigrants work in jobs that carry a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Lesko said that her older constituents would be disappointed to know Democrats were blocking the amendment.

"My Democratic colleagues are putting illegal immigrants over them," she said during the hearing. "If I read it right, all this amendment says is put Americans first. Put Americans first, and once they're all vaccinated, then you can go to the illegal immigrants," she said, before making her remarks about Hispanics.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky then criticized Lesko, saying the amendment was "really, really dangerous."

Arizona has an estimated 281,000 undocumented immigrants, accounting for nearly 4 percent of the state's 7.3 million residents, according the Migration Policy Institute.

Rep. Debbie Lesko speaks in security meeting
Rep. Debbie Lesko, (R-AZ), speaks as Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor testifies before a House Committee on Homeland Security meeting on Capitol Hill, July 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Lesko is facing backlash after making inflammatory comments about Hispanic people, equating them with undocumented migrants. Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty