EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Hoping to catch what she predicts is a conservative wave this election season, a moderate-sounding Democrat in El Paso is challenging head on a two-termed and well-liked incumbent for the Texas 16th Congressional District Democratic nomination.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, first won the job in the 2018 election, got reelected in 2020 and serves in the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, the Judiciary Committee, the Ethics Committee, and the Select Committee on Climate Crisis.

Deliris Montanez Berrios has not held public office but says she knows how government works. She served in the U.S. Army for 29 years and is a former U.S. Border Patrol agent. “Some people say I don’t have experience in politics, but do we need more politicians on Capitol Hill? That hasn’t gotten us anywhere,” said Montañez, who refers to herself as DMB.

As a “blue dog” Democrat, Montanez says the country needs members of Congress willing to work with each other and break the partisan gridlock that’s preventing America from moving forward in unity.

Escobar says she has established herself as the voice of the border who is committed to building a country that works for everyone. She adds she is optimistic about the progress ahead.

The winner of this election – first the primary and then the general election in November – will represent a district in the frontlines of the national immigration debate. The El Paso Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol is the fourth busiest in terms of unauthorized migrant encounters and one of only three implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols program. El Paso is also one of 11 cities where the Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting Operation Wave Breaker, which aims to stem the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that last year killed more than 100,000 Americans.

In an earlier interview, Escobar stressed the need to mitigate climate change, which itself is contributing to natural disasters and the failure of crops that are prompting people to leave their countries and come to the United States.

“We have an enormous immigration challenge on our hands right now, one that will only continue to increase regardless of who is in the White House unless we do a number of things,” Escobar said. “We have to address root causes of migration. We have to open legal pathways. […] Since the Clinton administration legal pathways have shrunk and under Trump some were eliminated altogether, so for many there is no line to get into, there is no ‘right way to do it.”

Montañez voted for Escobar in 2018 but has since become disillusioned with how “far left” she says the congresswoman has gone. “El Pasoans are very supportive of the immigrants who are working for a living. I do believe in residency and U.S. citizenship (but) I don’t believe in open borders,” Montañez said. “Open borders is not the answer. Law enforcement officers are at risk. […] As someone that has many years’ experience in the Border Patrol, I believe the wall serves a purpose, but I don’t believe it serves a purpose in the entire border of the United States.”

Montanez is the first challenger for Escobar as an incumbent in a Democratic primary. In her first successful run for Congress in 2018, Escobar faced five challengers in a highly contentious race to replace Beto O’Rourke, who ran for the U.S. before losing to Republican Ted Cruz. Despite the large field, Escobar avoided a runoff and won the primary. Escobar did not have a challenger in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Both candidates support immigration reform, legal immigration and funding veterans’ services. They also support trade, livable wages and gay marriage. Montañez supports prayer in schools and the death penalty and opposes abortion with a few exceptions.

The primary winner will face Irene Armendariz-Jackson, who is the only candidate on the Republican ticket, on Nov. 8. Escobar defeated Armendariz-Jackson in the 2020 election with 65 percent of the vote.

Escobar was unavailable for comment.