Jessica Cisneros: "Our experiences are valid."
Jessica Cisneros is running to represent Texas in Congressional District 28—a position she also ran for in 2020. On top of being a candidate, Jessica also works as an immigration and human rights attorney. As the daughter and sister of immigrants, Jessica prides herself on advocating for her bicultural community in South Texas. She taps into her bicultural perspective as a Mexican American to advocate for her potential constituents. In fact, Jessica encourages other young women interested in politics to fill these spaces even if they are afraid their background doesn’t mesh with the field. “Our experiences are valid,” Jessica said.
Jessica was born and raised in Laredo, Texas—a city in Webb County on the US and Mexico border. Her parents immigrated to the United States in search of life-saving medical treatment for her older sister, Claudia. In fact, Claudia is Jessica’s first role model. Claudia pursued a career as a medical doctor because of her medical treatment and desire to help others. It was Claudia’s profound call to service in the medical field that makes her a role model. Her sister also put her family’s immigration story to the forefront of her mind. Jessica wanted to explore the different reasons that families moved to the states.
Growing up in Laredo provided Jessica a unique perspective that influenced her public interest career. Laredo holds a about 30% poverty rate, making it one of the poorest communities in the United States. “In my area of the world, opportunity is really hard to come by,” said Jessica. She recalled a time when her father built his own business from the ground up but was forced to shut down because of the ever-ebbing economy. She watched folks just like her family struggle. When Jessica began attending college, she realized that her background differed greatly from her classmates. “When you’re in [an environment like Laredo], you go to school with the same kind of people,” Jessica said. Attending the University of Texas at Austin was a shock for her. However, Jessica harnessed her differences and used them to her advantage.
Jessica graduated from college and went on to attend University of Texas School of Law to become an immigration and human rights attorney. She tapped into her experiences in Laredo to advocate for people like her family and neighbors. While at UT Law, she experienced a microaggression against her identity as a Mexican American. She was representing an Eastern European client in an immigration proceeding as part of the law school’s clinic. She arrived at the courthouse with her client and professor, everyone dressed in professional attire. Immediately, ICE agents assumed she was the client. While Jessica was not offended at being typified as undocumented, she realized the assumption was made solely on the color of her skin. As a brown woman, Jessica recognized how engrained society is with bias against people of color. This experience highlighted the importance of representation for Jessica, saying “it is important to make sure we are filling those spaces of power and going against the stereotypes.” She works to ensure people that look like her are in spaces like courtrooms—and elected office.
By 2019, immigration laws had taken a drastic turn. The current state of immigration affairs starkly contrasted from her initial entrance into the field in 2012 when President Barack Obama was in office and DACA had been created. As an immigration attorney that focuses on removal defense work—that is, protecting folks from deportation, Jessica has witnessed first-hand families being torn apart and clients being detained. Judges told Jessica that their hands were tired by bureaucratic tape. One day while standing outside of the courthouse after losing a case, she decided she wanted to change the laws creating bureaucratic tape. It was then that Jessica decided to run for Texas Congressional District 28.
Jessica first ran for TX-28 in 2020 against incumbent U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D). The race attracted national attention because Jessica was within less than 4 points of unseating Cuellar, one of the most moderate Democrats in Congress. Though she lost, Jessica has returned as a candidate to TX-28. Jessica’s top legislative priorities include creating affordable healthcare, bringing more employment opportunities, and reforming the immigration system. With regard to healthcare, Jessica wants to create accessible medical treatment for her constituent’s—especially given the fact that 24% of TX-28 residents are without health insurance.
Jessica always carries a piece of Laredo with her, even if she were to be called to Washington, D.C. as a Congressperson. She recalled the moment she watched President Obama’s inauguration in high school. It was a special moment because witnessing a person of color step into the highest office of the United States resonated with her classmates, a majority of whom were also people of color. “It was a palpable feeling,” Jessica said. President Obama’s inauguration also showed Jessica that all experiences are valid in politics. “Don’t fall in this trap that you have to jump through hoops or have a certain background to get into politics. It’s a misconception. We must have professional and personal experiences,” she said.
Learn more about Jessica’s campaign here.