“He Won’t Be Welcome Until He Repents”: El Paso Residents Ask Trump to Stay Away
On Monday afternoon, following the news that President Trump would be visiting El Paso after a mass shooting that killed twenty-two people, a local immigrant-advocacy group began circulating a letter to the President asking him to stay away. The open letter, principally authored by the Border Network for Human Rights, stated that Patrick Crusius, the killer, had been “inspired by your words and your attitudes.” It asked Trump to “cut your ties to white supremacists like Kris Kobach, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller.” It asked the President to “stop policies that criminalize, demonize, and dehumanize migrants.” It encouraged Trump to “ask for our community’s forgiveness” and pledge to never again use “the racist, xenophobic, and hateful language that has marked your presidency.” It concluded, “Only then, after you have demonstrated this change, genuine and meaningful, in your words, your acts, and your heart, can we welcome you in El Paso again. In the meantime, we must insist you are not welcome here.” As of Tuesday night, the letter had twenty thousand signatures.
Of course, the statement was largely symbolic. Trump will visit El Paso on Wednesday, regardless of the letter or how many people sign it. So, on Monday night, at the offices of the Border Network, some fifty local immigrant advocates, current and former elected officials, and residents met to discuss how to prepare for Trump’s visit on Wednesday afternoon. (I was invited to attend the gathering.)
Representative Veronica Escobar, whose district encompasses El Paso, spoke first. Escobar has been among the most prominent elected officials calling out the President and his role in the shooting since it took place. “He’s visiting two hospitals and then he’s leaving,” Escobar told those gathered. Members of the audience sighed. “And then, the next day, Ted Cruz is visiting.” Louder sighs. Escobar responded, “I know.” She continued, “From my perspective—and I don’t speak for every El Pasoan—Trump is not welcome here.” After Escobar said that Trump had “dehumanized minorities like Latinos” and failed “to accept responsibility for the power of his own words,” she told the group that “he should not use us as a prop.” She suggested a demonstration on Wednesday that would “lead with love” and then left to continue making her rounds around town.
The executive director of Border Network, Fernando Garcia, took the microphone next. He’d been on the phone with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier that day, he said, talking about next steps. “I think we’re moving very slowly from mourning our victims to reflecting on what is gonna be next,” Garcia said to those gathered. As for Trump’s visit, he told the crowd, “The goal that we have is to come together as one community, with one event.” He went on, “So what do we do? What kind of activity?”
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An aide to Escobar, who asked not to be named, took over as a kind of m.c. She cautioned that organizing an event with such a large group would be complicated. “Maybe we should start with building some consensus around the tenor, tone, and approach for the march?” she asked, and offered suggestions. “Maybe we all wear white, to shine a light in the darkness. Maybe we all come prepared with something that represents El Paso—maybe an image or something our moms taught us that is very El Paso?” She went on, “Maybe more of a silent moment, to express the deep, deep love that we have for this community?” She added, “But we’re also very angry, there’s that. We’re pissed.” After noting that moving around would be difficult, given the tight security that would surround the President, she asked if there should be a plan to have speakers or “maybe some beautiful music?”
More radical proposals emerged. A woman stood up. “I would like us to block his passage,” she declared. “I don’t want him to waltz into our city, use it as a prop, and then leave.” Another voice spoke up. “We could link arm in arm,” the person said. “Every race, every age, and just block him.” The person continued, “I’ve been through four mass shootings, and I’m kinda done. If anyone wants to talk about blocking the hospital entrances—he needs to know we’re not taking his bullshit.” A woman countered, “How are we gonna block the entrance to a hospital? What if people have emergencies?” The idea was waved away.
Carlos Spector, a local immigration attorney, then spoke and urged caution. “If we close the main streets, we lose support before we’ve even started,” he said. “This is the biggest coalition that has come together in maybe the history of this city, and for us to throw it away for one action that we could do bigger and better the next time . . .”
Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network, spoke again. “The immigrant community should be at the forefront of this demonstration—the people impacted and targeted. If we’re gonna have anybody talking that day, it should be immigrant families.” He went on, “We can do a powerful event without civil disobedience, but it’s very difficult for me to say that we’re going to remain silent.”
A woman with the Hope Border Institute spoke up. “There’s part of me that just wants to go about my day and ignore that he’s here. Not even dignify it with a response.” But, she went on, “My perspective is, I’d like to be Mexican as fuck. Be fully present.”
Clapping rang out.
“That’s a great idea, mejicano as fuck,” Escobar’s aide said.
“You can’t fight hate with hate,” a man offered.
“I just thought of an idea,” a young woman said. “What if we honor the victims with one of those silhouette things, the cutouts that are all black?” Other artistic ideas were proposed, as was obtaining the permission of victims’ families before depicting them in any way.
Escobar’s aide tried to bring the conversation back to the core issues. More debate ensued. An audience member said that Trump should apologize. Another said Trump’s “narcissism” should be the focus. Giving the President the “kind of attention he does not like” was discussed. The congressional aide, again, called for “really specific ideas.”
J. J. Martinez, the deputy communications director for the Texas Young Democrats, reminded the crowd about a mariachi band that his group had sent to the governor’s office in Austin, two years earlier, at three in the morning, in protest of a “sanctuary cities” law with which they disagreed.
Past New Yorker coverage of mass shootings and the battle over gun control.
Then Estela Reyes Lopez, from the Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, a network of community health facilities, stood up. “I feel a lot of anger from many of you. And I think we need to be angry.” She went on, “Maybe it means laying down in the street. I’m all for that. Maybe it means blocking the airport. I don’t know. Maybe it means civil disobedience.” Lopez continued, “The world is watching us. We cannot stand before the world holding flowers, wearing white. I’m sorry. We can do that any day of the week. This is an opportunity to call him out on our streets. We need to show him how we truly feel. I love the idea of giving him our backs. Nothing stings a narcissist pig more than your back.”
A few minutes later, Bobby Byrd, a retired local publisher, made a suggestion that sparked laughter and clapping. “I think everybody should speak Spanish when he comes here,” he said.
Another call was made to find a consensus around exactly what kind of demonstration to pursue on Wednesday.
Garcia noted that a smaller group would work on logistics. He summed up the past hour of discussion. “This is what we have so far,” Garcia said. “First, we want to come together as a proud community in El Paso. Secondly, we want to put out the stories of our families—and, potentially, even the stories of the people that were impacted, if we get their permission. Third, we want to do a powerful, symbolic, but peaceful event,” not civil disobedience at this time. “And finally,” he said, “that we would like to see people from across the border—from Chihuahua and elsewhere—there.” A lawyer mentioned that her clients from across the border would only be able to come if they weren’t worried about being arrested.
Garcia solicited affirmation from the group on three points. Gun reform: “Yes!” The rejection of xenophobia and racism: “Yes!” And thirdly, he said, “What Trump represents is not welcome in El Paso.” An even louder, “Yes!” Garcia went on, “He won’t be welcome until he repents, asks for forgiveness, learns Spanish. And he ends the strategies violating the rights of our communities.” Garcia continued, “He’s not gonna do it. But because of that, he’s not welcome in El Paso. People can express this silently or yell it. Is that all correct?” Once more, the crowd thundered, “Yes!”