Filemon Vela Jr. was born in Harlingen, Texas, on February 13, 1963. His mother was the first female mayor of Brownsville, Texas, where Vela was raised, and his father was a federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. After graduating from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in 1985, Vela earned a JD …
Filemon Vela Jr. was born in Harlingen, Texas, on February 13, 1963. His mother was the first female mayor of Brownsville, Texas, where Vela was raised, and his father was a federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. After graduating from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in 1985, Vela earned a JD at the University of Texas Law School in 1987. He subsequently worked as an attorney in South Texas until 2012, at which time the voters of that state’s 34th Congressional District elected him (as a Democrat) to the U.S. House of Representatives. Vela continues to serve there as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Border Caucus, the Committee on Homeland Security, and the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
In the summer of 2014 — when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were illegally flooding across the Mexican border and into a number of southern U.S. states — Vela called on the federal government to take “swift but thoughtful action” through increased economic aid to Central America, so as to address “the immediate needs of [the] unaccompanied children” who were “risking their lives to flee violent crime and poverty.”
In 2015, Vela co-sponsored fellow Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro‘s Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression Act, a bill that sought to bar the use of the term “illegal alien” from all Executive Branch agencies, signage, and literature, and to replace it with the phrase “undocumented foreign national.”
In June 2016, Vela wrote an open letter to Donald Trump, who was then the presumptive GOP nominee for president, and whose campaign had featured numerous calls for the stricter enforcement of existing immigration laws as well as the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass,” Vela’s letter stated. “While you would build more and bigger walls on the U.S.-Mexico border, I would tear the existing wall to pieces. 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 [sic].”
Once Trump’s tenure as president had begun in 2017, Vela broadly accused the new administration of targeting all immigrants for deportation, saying: “Under President Trump, every undocumented immigrant — and many lawfully present immigrants — are priorities for deportation.”
Vela co-sponsored H.R. 3440, popularly known as the DREAM Act of 2017, which aimed to legalize and eventually naturalize a large number of so-called “Dreamers” — i.e., illegal-alien teens and young adults who first came to the United States as minors.
Vela has long supported former President Barack Obama‘s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, which conferred temporary protection from deportation upon hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. In 2017 the congressman co-sponsored the American Hope Act, which was designed not only to offer further protections for DACA recipients, but also to provide a path to permanent legal status for all other illegal-alien youngsters brought to the U.S. before their 18th birthday.
Vela likewise backed President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) executive action of 2014, which offered similar protection to several million additional illegals. When Texas led a 26-state coalition in an effort to block DAPA’s implementation by means of a lawsuit that ultimately reached the Supreme Court in 2016, Vela criticized the suit as “frivolous.”
Vela likewise denounced a January 2017 executive order by which President Trump imposed a temporary moratorium on the issuance of visas for people seeking to travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations that were hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. Trump’s action was “overtly prejudiced,” said Vela, who claimed that the ban was “religiously motivated [against] innocent Muslim immigrants.” Moreover, Vela and several of his Democrat colleagues filed an amicus curiae brief in a court case (Darweesh et. al. v. Trump et. al.) challenging Trump’s executive order on grounds that it was rooted in “racially motivated mockery of the First Amendment and the Constitution.”
Vela supports the policies of sanctuary cities, where illegal aliens are protected by local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Thus, in June 2017 he voted against the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, which called for the federal government to withhold certain grants from such cities.
In October 2017, Vela joined 120 fellow members of Congress in signing a letter expressing their “deep disappointment” over President Trump’s announcement that he planned to admit no more than 45,000 foreign refugees to the U.S. in 2018. The signatories asserted that this number was “woefully insufficient when compared to the millions of people who have been forced to flee their home countries,” and that 110,000 would have been a more appropriate figure. “As a nation of immigrants,” added Vela and his allies, “our country has a long history of welcoming newcomers of all different backgrounds. Any efforts to require refugees [to] meet an assimilation standard misunderstands the purpose of our resettlement program which is to assist the most vulnerable.”
For an overview of Vela’s voting record on an array of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: Biographical information from Votesmart.org and Vela.house.gov; “Texas Congressman to Trump: ‘Take Your Border Wall and Shove It Up Your Ass’” (Texas Tribune, 6-6-2016); “Immigration” (Vela.house.gov); “American Hope Act Introduced …” (7-28-2017); “Vela Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Response to Trump’s Muslim Ban” (2-17-2017); “Letter to President Donald J. Trump: Increase Refugee Intake” (10-18-2017).