El Paso’s mes­sage for Trump be­fore visit: Don’t speak for us

Pres­i­dent to rally tonight in city where even GOP chal­lenges him

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Si­mon Romero

EL PASO — Ahead of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sched­uled rally in this West Texas city aimed at build­ing sup­port for his pro­posed wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico, peo­ple from across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum in El Paso had a mes­sage for him on Sun­day: Don’t speak for us.

“The pres­i­dent is just wrong about the wall and wrong about El Paso,” said Jon Barela, a life­long Repub­li­can and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Border­plex Al­liance, an or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­mot­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in a cross-bor­der in­dus­trial hub with a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of more than 2.7 mil­lion, tak­ing in the cities of El Paso, Ci­u­dad Juárez and Las Cruces.

Barela dis­puted Trump’s widely dis­cred­ited as­ser­tion that bor­der fenc­ing had cut vi­o­lent crime in El Paso, point­ing to FBI data show­ing that the city has ranked for decades among the safest ur­ban ar­eas its size in the United States — long be­fore U.S. au­thor­i­ties started build­ing some fenc­ing along the bor­der about a decade ago.

“As a fis­cally con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can, I just don’t un­der­stand how spend­ing $25 bil­lion on a wall with lim­ited ef­fec­tive­ness is a good idea,” Barela said in an in­ter­view. “Mex­ico is an eco­nomic and strate­gic ally of the United States,

and an an­ti­quated ef­fort to place a bar­rier be­tween us just won’t work.”

Dee Margo, the Repub­li­can mayor of El Paso, voiced sim­i­lar crit­i­cism of Trump’s de­scrip­tion of El Paso, in his State of the Union ad­dress, as “one of the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous cities” be­fore the bar­rier went up on the bor­der. Rep. Veron­ica Es­co­bar, a Demo­crat re­cently elected to Congress to rep­re­sent El Paso, is ask­ing Trump to apol­o­gize and meet with mi­grant fam­i­lies seek­ing asy­lum in the United States.

The ten­sion sur­round­ing Trump’s planned visit to El Paso on Mon­day is re­veal­ing po­lit­i­cal fis­sures. A Demo­cratic bas­tion in a state where Repub­li­cans have long wielded dom­i­nance in statewide pol­i­tics, El Paso is also home to Beto O’Rourke, the for­mer lo­cal con­gress­man who is a star of the Demo­cratic Party and a po­ten­tial chal­lenger to Trump in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

At the same time Trump is sched­uled to speak be­fore about 6,000 peo­ple at the El Paso County Coli­seum, O’Rourke will speak at an­other rally a mile away. O’Rourke said in an es­say on the web­site Medium that Trump “will prom­ise a wall and will repeat his lies about the dan­gers that im­mi­grants pose.”

El Paso, where His­pan­ics ac­count for about 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, was al­ready hos­tile ground for Trump. In the 2016 elec­tion, he took only about 26 per­cent of the vote in El Paso County.

Still, the pres­i­dent should not have a prob­lem filling the venue. Some of his sup­port­ers in the city re­main ea­ger to hear what Trump has to say.

“I’d like to see a wall go up along the en­tire bor­der,” said Joshua As­cen­cio, 21, a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army who has plans to be­come an agent with the Bor­der Pa­trol when he leaves the mil­i­tary. As­cen­cio said he was look­ing for­ward to Trump’s rally.

“I’m a sup­porter of the pres­i­dent, and I think it’s im­por­tant to be there for him,” said As­cen­cio. “I want to hear him on bor­der se­cu­rity.”

Still, for many oth­ers in this city of im­mi­grants, the mere idea of Trump com­ing to El Paso to pro­mote his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s crack­down on im­mi­gra­tion raises hack­les.

“The pres­i­dent of the United States is, dis­grace­fully, noth­ing more than a racist,” said Mayra Cabral, 37, an im­mi­grant who grew up across the bor­der in Ci­u­dad Juárez and now cleans ta­bles at a restau­rant in El Paso, where she has lived for the past 19 years af­ter mar­ry­ing a U.S. cit­i­zen.

Cabral laughed out loud when asked about Trump’s claims that His­panic im­mi­grants bring crime to the United States. She said El Paso is nor­mally so calm that it’s “bor­ing here some­times.” Cabral added that she and her fam­ily were not getting way­laid by talk of the pres­i­dent’s visit; on Satur­day night, they hosted a quinceañera for her 15-year-old daugh­ter at­tended by about 300 peo­ple.

“I was able to do this for my daugh­ter be­cause I work at a job that peo­ple born in the United States won’t do,” Cabral said. “Trump likes to call us crim­i­nals, but what about all the Amer­i­cans in the coun­try who com­mit vi­o­lent crimes? Why doesn’t he talk about them for once?”

Trump ap­pears to have homed in on El Paso af­ter meet­ing with Repub­li­can of­fi­cials from Texas in Jan­uary in McAllen, a city af­fected by a large in­flux of mi­grant fam­i­lies trav­el­ing through the Rio Grande Val­ley. At that meet­ing, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton of Texas told Trump that the con­struc­tion of bor­der fenc­ing in El Paso caused crime to fall in the city.

But while El Paso has long been rel­a­tively safer than other Amer­i­can cities its size, the vi­o­lent crime rate in the city ac­tu­ally climbed briefly just be­fore and in the two years af­ter au­thor­i­ties in­stalled fenc­ing on the bor­der as part of an ef­fort to im­prove bor­der se­cu­rity dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ge­orge W. Bush.

Pax­ton tried to back up his as­ser­tion that a bor­der wall in El Paso had cut crime rates by re­fer­ring to a “131-mile fence that was com­pleted in 2010.” Poli­tiFact, the non­par­ti­san factcheck­ing web­site owned by the Poyn­ter In­sti­tute, ques­tioned Pax­ton’s claim, point­ing out that while Texas does have 131 miles of fenc­ing, not all of it is even in El Paso.

The con­tested as­ser­tions of a se­nior state of­fi­cial come at a time of ratch­et­ing ten­sion in Texas over the treat­ment of Latino vot­ers by Repub­li­can state of­fi­cials, who in Jan­uary called into ques­tion the cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus of nearly 100,000 vot­ers. County of­fi­cials found that the list of vot­ers, which was re­ferred to by Pax­ton in a cam­paign fundrais­ing email with the head­line “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” ac­tu­ally in­cluded scores of nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens.

The Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Le­gal De­fense Fund filed a law­suit this month against Pax­ton, Gov. Greg Ab­bott and Sec­re­tary of State David Whit­ley of Texas, ar­gu­ing that they con­spired to purge Lati­nos from voter rolls af­ter a surge in turnout by Latino vot­ers in the midterm elec­tions.

Ab­bott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Repub­li­can who nar­rowly de­feated O’Rourke to hold on to his seat in Novem­ber, are among the Repub­li­can of­fi­cials from around the state who are ex­pected to at­tend the rally Mon­day in sup­port of Trump.

But else­where along the bor­der, there has been ris­ing op­po­si­tion among state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to the pres­i­dent’s se­cu­rity strate­gies.

Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, an­nounced last week that she had or­dered a par­tial with­drawal of Na­tional Guard troops from her state. “New Mex­ico will not take part in the pres­i­dent’s cha­rade of bor­der fear­mon­ger­ing by misusing our dili­gent Na­tional Guard troops,” Gr­isham, a Demo­crat, said in a state­ment.

In No­gales, Ariz., the City Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the re­cent in­stal­la­tion of new barbed wire along the ex­ist­ing bor­der wall in that city, call­ing it an “in­dis­crim­i­nate use of lethal force” that is “typ­i­cally only found in a war, bat­tle­field or prison set­ting.”

Gain­ing pub­lic sup­port for the idea of a wall at an event such as the rally in El Paso will be im­por­tant for Trump, as talks for a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on bor­der se­cu­rity ap­peared to have stalled Sun­day amid lin­ger­ing dis­agree­ment over how much should be spent on a bor­der bar­rier. Trump, who ini­tially pro­posed spend­ing $25 bil­lion on a wall, now is look­ing for $5.7 bil­lion. Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have talked about a fig­ure closer to $1.3 bil­lion to $2 bil­lion.

JES­SICA LUTZ/NEW YORK TIMES

Peo­ple travel be­tween Cuidad Juarez, Mex­ico, and El Paso on Sun­day on the Paso del Norte In­ter­na­tional Bridge. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has a rally in El Paso, a city he has used as an ex­am­ple of the se­cu­rity a bor­der wall could bring.

JES­SICA LUTZ/NEW YORK TIMES

Sa­man­tha Tellez of El Paso cel­e­brates her quinceañera Satur­day at a scenic over­look with views of El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, Mex­ico. His­pan­ics ac­count for about 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

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