Trump to tout wall in west Texas

Res­i­dents irked at city be­com­ing a poster child for di­vider

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - National - WILL WEIS­SERT In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Astrid Gal­van of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

EL PASO, Texas — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is hold­ing a rally in this west Texas bor­der city to­day to show why he’s de­mand­ing more than 100 miles of new walls, cost­ing $5.7 bil­lion, along the 1,900-mile bor­der.

But many in this city bris­tle at the prospect of their home be­com­ing a bor­der wall poster child.

Trump said bar­ri­ers turned El Paso from one of the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous cities to one of its safest, but crit­ics say that’s not true. El Paso, pop­u­la­tion around 800,000, had a mur­der rate less than half the na­tional av­er­age in 2005, a year be­fore the most re­cent ex­pan­sion of its bor­der fence. That’s de­spite be­ing just across the bor­der from drug vi­o­lence-plagued Ci­u­dad Juarez, Mex­ico.

Many res­i­dents say El Paso, and the Paso del Norte Bridge link­ing the city to Mex­ico, em­bod­ies a cross-bor­der spirit that tran­scends walls rather than prov­ing more are needed.

“The rich­est of the rich, the poor­est of the poor, we all have dif­fer­ent rea­sons for want­ing to cross, and peo­ple cross ev­ery day,” said El Paso City Coun­cil mem­ber Peter Svarzbein.

El Paso lays bare the mixed feel­ings the bor­der in­spires. Even na­tive Beto O’Rourke, a for­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man who waged an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt last year to un­seat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, says bar­ri­ers are in­evitable but that Trump’s calls for an ex­panded wall are the “cyn­i­cal rhetoric of war, of in­va­sions, of fear.”

O’Rourke will help lead a march tonight op­pos­ing the wall with dozens of lo­cal civic, hu­man-rights and His­panic groups at the same time Trump is hold­ing his rally. Or­ga­niz­ers ex­pect thou­sands to turn out.

“While some try to stoke fear and para­noia, to spread lies and a false nar­ra­tive about the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and to de­mand a 2,000-mile wall along it at a time of record safety and se­cu­rity, El Paso will come to­gether for a march and cel­e­bra­tion that high­lights the truth,” O’Rourke said in a state­ment.

For cen­turies, vir­tu­ally noth­ing but the Rio Grande stood be­tween the city and Juarez. But wors­en­ing eco­nomic prob­lems in Mex­ico in­creased the flow of im­mi­grants into the United States in the 1970s, prompt­ing Congress to ap­prove chain-link fenc­ing in El Paso and in San Diego dubbed the “Tor­tilla Cur­tain.” More bar­ri­ers were added in the 1990s and in 2006.

Pub­lic re­ac­tion to the se­cu­rity mea­sures ini­tially was pos­i­tive in some quar­ters be­cause it helped re­duce va­grancy and petty crime. But many res­i­dents now com­plain that Trump’s de­mands, and the rust-col­ored slabs of 18-footh­igh metal to re­place the fenc­ing, have gone too far, mak­ing their home sound like a war zone and of­fend­ing both them and peo­ple from Mex­ico.

“The bor­der is fluid cul­tur­ally, eco­nom­i­cally,” said Ce­sar Blanco, a Demo­cratic law­maker who lives a stone’s throw from the wall. “We are a bi­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Those who live near the wall say they see few peo­ple climb­ing the bar­ri­ers now. In fis­cal 2017, about 25,000 peo­ple were ap­pre­hended in Bor­der Pa­trol’s El Paso sec­tor, down from 122,000-plus in fis­cal year 2006.

In­stead, those cross­ing il­le­gally now tend to do so out­side the city in des­o­late deserts where deaths from ex­po­sure have risen. Democrats ar­gue that elec­tronic sen­sors and pa­trols are a more ef­fec­tive an­swer for ad­di­tional bor­der se­cu­rity.

The de­mand for more and big­ger walls has be­come “the supreme sym­bol of racism,” said Fer­nando Gar­cia, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bor­der Net­work for Hu­man Rights in El Paso. “Ob­vi­ously he’ll have some peo­ple at­tend his rally,” he said of Trump, but “he can­not lie about what we’re about.’”

Many Repub­li­cans, though, in­sist the low crime rate here is not a co­in­ci­dence.

“There are reg­u­lar shootouts near the bor­der, dan­ger­ous nar­cotics traf­ficked,” said re­cently elected Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Chip Roy, who rep­re­sents a dis­trict be­tween Austin and San An­to­nio that’s about 50 miles from the bor­der at its clos­est point.

“The good news is that we can stop this,” Roy said in a post-State of the Union fundrais­ing email cham­pi­oning a Trump-backed wall.

The FBI’s Uni­form Crime Re­port shows that El Paso’s an­nual num­ber of re­ported vi­o­lent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that cor­re­sponded to sim­i­lar de­clines in vi­o­lent crime na­tion­wide and in­cluded times when the city’s crime rates ac­tu­ally in­creased year-over-year, de­spite new fenc­ing and walls.

The tow­er­ing bar­ri­ers don’t stop Juarez from al­most seem­ing like an­other neigh­bor­hood in El Paso. Build­ings more than a few sto­ries tall in El Paso have sweep­ing views of down­town Juarez.

Mickie Su­bia’s sin­gle-story home in the his­toric, down­town Chi­huahuita neigh­bor­hood is steps from the bar­rier, pro­vid­ing glimpses of Mex­ico through fenc­ing and metal slats. She said the wall doesn’t make her feel safer.

“We don’t have a prob­lem with Bor­der Pa­trol,” Su­bia said. “We don’t have a prob­lem with any­one com­ing from over there, ei­ther.”

Dee Margo, El Paso’s mayor and a for­mer Repub­li­can state law­maker, tweeted af­ter the State of the Union that his city was “NEVER one of the MOST dan­ger­ous cities in the U.S.,” ad­ding that bor­der walls are only partly the rea­son.

“I’m re­ally glad Pres­i­dent Trump is com­ing here,” he said in a sub­se­quent in­ter­view. “I just hope we get a chance to show him what it’s re­ally like on the bor­der.”

AP/ERIC GAY

A new bar­rier rises last month along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der near down­town El Paso, Texas.

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