Cornyn Challenger Equates U.S. Border Policies to Chinese Concentration Camps

Texas Dem compares Obama-era ICE facilities to CCP's Uyghur oppression

MJ Hegar / Getty Images
July 16, 2020

Texas Democratic Senate nominee M.J. Hegar repeatedly equated U.S. immigration policies to Uyghur concentration camps in China, saying Americans "cannot lecture China" on human rights issues.

During a June 24 call with supporters, Hegar accused the Trump administration of "terrorizing people," calling its attempts to deter illegal immigration a "human rights violation."

"When we are committing human rights violations on our southern border, not only is it immoral, but it's also impacting our ability to have influence globally," Hegar said. "We cannot lecture China on their treatment of the Uyghurs. … We cannot start looking like the countries and the governments that we are supposed to be the opposite of."

Hegar's June comments came just two weeks before the Treasury Department announced sanctions against four Chinese Communist Party officials for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. They also came as the establishment-backed candidate faced a closer than expected run-off race against state legislator Royce West. Hegar won the nomination on Tuesday by 4 points despite spending more than three times as much as her progressive opponent.

Hegar, an Air Force veteran, has made foreign policy the focus of her campaign against Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas). She has repeatedly attacked the Trump administration for its tough stance against the Chinese regime. During campaign events in February and April, she argued that the United States has lost its "moral high ground" to China by "putting kids in cages on our southern border," a reference to the enclosures built by the Obama administration to temporarily house migrants. According to Hegar, the enclosures are equivalent to Chinese concentration camps where Uyghur Muslims are detained and forced to work in brutal conditions.

China ranks among the world's worst offenders of state-sanctioned human trafficking. Detainees have reported torture, rape, and other obscene abuses in the camps, and women are reportedly subjected to involuntary sterilization. In June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at the regime's human rights abuses against the Uyghurs.

"The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang," Pompeo said. He went on to accuse China of "forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase [Uyghur] culture and Muslim faith."

Hegar, who did not respond to a request for comment, will face incumbent senator Cornyn in November following her narrow primary runoff win on Tuesday. She received the endorsement of the Schumer-led Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in December 2019, using the national support to secure a sizable fundraising advantage. Hegar spent more than $5.6 million on the primary, compared with opponent Royce West's $1.6 million, and benefited from millions in outside spending by Democratic establishment groups. Liberal dark money group VoteVets spent more than $3.5 million on ads backing Hegar, and abortion giant EMILY's List spent at least $1.3 million, including an $850,000 ad buy placed just a week before the primary.

Hegar defeated West by just 4 points on Tuesday. National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez pointed to the slim margin of victory to criticize the Texas Democrat for relying on national groups to "push her over the finish line."

"Hegar stood by as her national allies footed the bill for her campaign and pushed a diverse slate of candidates out of her way, making it perfectly clear Hegar's loyalties lie with liberal elites, not hard-working Texans," Rodriguez said in a statement.

Hegar lurched left throughout the primary amid criticism from West that she is not a "real Democrat." In addition to her comments comparing the United States to communist China, Hegar voiced support for providing health care benefits to illegal immigrants in July 2019. Cornyn criticized Hegar for catering to "national Democrats" rather than her own constituents.

"She would not have won the runoff in Texas were it not for the support of national Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, to whom she is now indebted," Cornyn said in a statement. "We look forward to shining a spotlight on how ideologically out-of-touch Hollywood Hegar is with Texans and her inability to go off-script to have substantive policy discussions."

Hegar was forced into a runoff after receiving just 22 percent support in Texas's March primary—far below the 50 percent needed to secure the nomination. The run-off hurt her ability to challenge Cornyn's war chest, forcing her to spend even more money to fend off West rather than focus on the general election. She now has just $900,000 on hand as of June 30, compared with Cornyn's $12.9 million.