On Wednesday, President Donald Trump visited El Paso to offer what the White House said were condolences to the victims of Saturday’s terrorist attack.
Before Air Force One touched down in Texas, many El Pasoans were not willing to welcome a president whose attitude towards immigrants and Hispanics served as a catalyst and inspiration to the mass shooter.
Rep. Veronica Esobar, the congresswoman whose district includes the Walmart where the bloody attack took place, announced ahead of Trump’s visit that she would not meet with the president.
“I declined the invitation to accompany the President because I refuse to be an accessory to his visit,” Esocbar wrote on Facebook. “I refuse to join without a true dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words and actions have caused our community and this country.”
Escobar was one of many El Pasoans, including former congressman and 2020 presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who urged Trump not to visit the border city.
Their anger was reinforced by El Paso residents who protested the arrival of Trump at an “El Paso Strong” rally organized by groups like Border Network for Human Rights and ACLU Texas. Both Escobar and O’Rourke attended the event.
“We have a president who demonizes communities like this one, who vilifies immigrants,” O’Rourke said in his short speech to protestors, later praising the city’s rich diversity and humane treatment of migrants.
Trump vs. El Paso
Long before Trump’s visit, El Paso maintained an uneasy relationship with the president.
In his State of the Union address to Congress in February, Trump angered El Pasoans by claiming their city was one of the “nation’s most dangerous” due to its proximity to Mexico, a lie considering that until Saturday’s terrorist attack, was one of the safest cities in the U.S.
In 2016, El Paso was the largest Texas city to overwhelmingly vote against Trump. Only 25 percent of El Paso backed him on election night, a likely consequence of Trump kicking off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and promising to build a wall through the U.S.-Mexico border that the city touches.
But beyond defamatory statements from Trump, El Paso also has been ground zero for some of the president’s most cruel immigration policies.
In March, El Paso became one of the first cities in the U.S. to experience Trump’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico. In 2017, El Paso served as a guinea pig to Trump’s family separation policy after the city was selected for a zero tolerance “pilot program.”
More recently, El Paso has been home to some of the most horrific Border Patrol camps in the country.
Root cause: white nationalism
On Wednesday, Trump was accompanied by Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and El Paso Mayor Dee Margo.
Although it took several days, Gov. Abbott and Sen. Cornyn joined the bipartisan acknowledgement what happened in El Paso was racist hate.
“In this case, we’re dealing with terrorism,” Mr. Abbott said. “We’re dealing with a white supremacist. We’re dealing with racism.”
It’s unclear how the Governor’s proposed round table discussions will address white supremacy.
At the federal level, one writer notes, the policy options are already on the table —like bringing back the disbanded Extremism and Radicalization division of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s that the political will to make it happen is lacking.