El Paso residents to Trump: Don’t speak for us
EL PASO, Texas – Ahead of President 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 Juarez 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 today 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 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, 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.
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 Juarez 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 quinceanera 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?”