Du­el­ing ral­lies for Beto, Trump

Bor­der show­down set for Mon­day in El Paso

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Doug Stan­glin, Madlin Mekel­burg and John C. Moritz

EL PASO, Texas – If Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has turned into a three-ring cir­cus, this city in west Texas will hoist the Big Top on Mon­day, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump com­ing to rally for a bor­der wall, Demo­cratic wun­derkind Beto O’Rourke lead­ing a protest march and even the Trump Baby blimp putting in an ap­pear­ance.

The Trump rally at the El Paso County Coli­seum will come only four days be­fore the pos­si­bil­ity of ei­ther an­other gov­ern­ment shut­down or a dec­la­ra­tion of na­tional emer­gency over what the pres­i­dent deems a na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis at the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der.

It also fol­lows Trump’s State of the

Union com­ments in which he tried to use El

Paso as an ex­am­ple of why the United States needs to con­struct a wall along the bor­der.

Perched on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, the city has be­come the fo­cal point for the con­tentious is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion and the pres­i­dent’s relentless push for a bar­rier.

O’Rourke, fresh off an in­ter­view with Oprah Win­frey, said he sees Trump’s cam­paign rally as an op­por­tu­nity for the city to take con­trol of the nar­ra­tive.

“I think the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to fo­cus on El Paso and his hor­ri­ble de­mo­niza­tion and vil­ification of im­mi­grants, specifically Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, and his de­sire to make us afraid of the bor­der can work to our ad­van­tage,” he told the El Paso Times. “In other words, as he comes down here and as he re­ferred to El Paso in his State of the Union speech, the eyes of the coun­try are lit­er­ally on us and will be even more so on Mon­day.”

“He’s offer­ing us a chance to tell our story and we’re go­ing to take that chance, all of us,” O’Rourke told the news­pa­per.

The pres­i­dent trig­gered lo­cal anger by al­leg­ing in his State of the Union ad­dress that El Paso “used to have ex­tremely high” crime be­fore a bor­der fence was con­structed and that the crime rate dropped sub­stan­tially af­ter

it was com­pleted.

The state­ment quickly prompted blow­back from lo­cal politi­cians and law en­force­ment figures. Mayor Dee Margo, a Re­pub­li­can, in­sisted that El Paso was “never” among the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous cities.

The cur­rent fenc­ing was largely con­structed af­ter the Se­cure Fence Act was adopted in 2006 un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Us­ing Uni­form Crime Re­ports from the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, the rate of vi­o­lent crime in El Paso can be cal­cu­lated by com­bin­ing data re­ported by the El Paso County Sher­iff’s Office and the El Paso Po­lice Depart­ment.

The rate of vi­o­lent crime peaked in 1993, when more than 6,500 vi­o­lent crimes were recorded. Between 1996 and 2006, the num­ber of vi­o­lent crimes re­ported by law en­force­ment fell by more than 34 per­cent.

From 2006 to 2011 – from roughly two years be­fore the fence was built to two years af­ter – the num­ber of vi­o­lent crimes in­creased by 17 per­cent.

The is­sue also sparked a flood of memes on so­cial me­dia ridi­cul­ing the por­trayal of El Paso as a once crime­in­fested bor­der town.

One photo, posted on Twit­ter by lo­cal TV an­chor Shel­ton Dod­son, fea­tures a Mex­i­can food dish from a pop­u­lar lo­cal res­tau­rant chain, Chico’s Tacos, with the cap­tion. “The Only vi­o­lence in El Paso was when Chico’s changed its cheese.” Dod­son posted the photo with its own head­line: “Well, that was a very fright­en­ing time in our city’s his­tory.”

O’Rourke, a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal rock star who rep­re­sented El Paso in Congress be­fore nar­rowly los­ing a bid to re­place Re­pub­li­can Ted Cruz in the Se­nate, ham­mered Trump dur­ing his cam­paign over the wall in par­tic­u­lar, and im­mi­gra­tion.

He is con­sid­er­ing en­ter­ing the pres­i­den­tial race.

Al­ready a pro­lific fundraiser, in part by his skill­ful use of the so­cial me­dia, O’Rourke plans to join a one-mile march past Trump’s rally on Mon­day and to speak across the street from the pres­i­dent at about the same time Mon­day evening.

O’Rourke’s camp de­scribed Mon­day’s protest march as an effort to “show the coun­try the re­al­ity of the bor­der — a vi­brant, safe, bi­na­tional com­mu­nity that proudly cel­e­brates its cul­ture, his­tory, di­ver­sity and sta­tus as a city of im­mi­grants.”

The march, or­ga­nized by Women’s March El Paso, is be­ing billed as a “March for Truth: Stop the Wall, Stop the Lies.”

O’Rourke also planned to join Demo­cratic Rep. Veron­ica Es­co­bar, who suc­ceeded him in Congress, and other ac­tivists on a con­fer­ence call to de­nounce Trump’s in­sis­tence on a bor­der wall.

In his in­ter­view with Oprah Win­frey, O’Rourke called Trump’s push for a bor­der wall a “racist re­sponse to a prob­lem we don’t have. It seeks emo­tion­ally to con­nect with us, with vot­ers — to stoke anx­i­ety and para­noia, to win power over ‘the other’ on the ba­sis of lies that vil­ify peo­ple.”

The Baby Trump blimp, mean­while, will join the fes­tiv­i­ties by flying above the city de­pict­ing the pres­i­dent as an in­fant wear­ing a di­a­per.

Fund­ing for the blimp, which was first set aloft in Lon­don dur­ing a Trump visit and has made sev­eral ap­pear­ances since in the United States, was quickly raised this week.

Don­ald Trump

Beto O’Rourke

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