EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – As crowds observed a moment of silence at Wednesday morning ceremonies to honor victims of El Paso’s 2019 mass shooting, leaders called for unity and warned the hate speech that led to the massacre is making a comeback and could spark new tragedies.
A gunman reportedly outraged by the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas on Aug. 3, 2019, drove from North Texas to El Paso and attacked patrons at a local Walmart. Twenty-three people were killed and nearly two dozen injured by the gunfire. The shooter turned himself in to police and is facing state and federal charges, including for hate crimes.
“What happened that day was a racist, terrorist attack motivated by white supremacy,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “Fast forward to today. Everyone would think the situation would be different today, that we would have less vitriol and hate and racism, that weapons would be under control. What is happening is exactly the opposite.”
The group three years ago blamed President Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric for having inspired the El Paso shooter. Today, a slew of politicians are again riding a wave of discontent over growing illegal immigration. More than 2 million unauthorized migrants came across the border in 2021 and experts project the number to be even higher in 2022.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “is using, even more intensely, the language that criminalizes immigrants,” Garcia said during a memorial at Ponder Park, where large crosses with the names of the victims provided the background. “He’s calling immigrants, again, an invasion. He’s calling immigrants criminals and gangsters. He’s building walls, Texas walls because he believes we have an invasion. […] The context, the reason, the root causes of the attack at Walmart three years ago are more intense than ever. That means it could happen again, and it could happen in Texas.”
Earlier on Wednesday, a relative of a shooting victim said hate speech on social media worries him.
“We have to be careful, particularly on social media because a lot of people are airing out that hate,” said Claudio, whose mother survived being shot at the Walmart. “The authorities must be very watchful online to identify people who might have (bad) intentions.”
Standing firm against hate
Claudio, who declined to give his last name, was among a handful of relatives of Walmart shooting victims attending a Wednesday morning memorial at the Mexican consulate in El Paso.
Mexican Consul General Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon hosted the memorial with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego as guest speakers.
“We’re one community, we breathe the same air,” Leeser said. “Today’s the anniversary but we remember this every day. This cannot happen anymore. We can’t continue to have this hatred, not only in El Paso but around the United States. This has to stop.”
Samaniego said the victims represented the diversity of the region. They included American-born and naturalized U.S. citizens, Mexican nationals and even one German who was a long-time resident of Juarez.
“The message is that we are a country of immigrants. Other than Native Americans, they either came from another country or their family came from another country,” the county judge said. “It’s sort of ridiculous for someone living in this country to downgrade migration. This is what made us strong. This is what made us great.”
Consul Ibarra noted that nine of the dead were Mexican citizens.
“The President of Mexico and the Foreign Minister […] instructed me to never forget the victims, so this is part of the remembrance but it’s also important to raise awareness so that something like this never happens again anywhere but especially in a very welcoming, united community like El Paso-Ciudad Juarez.”
The consulate in 2019 provided legal referrals to survivors of the shooting and families of the victims. Ibarra said the lawsuits are making their way through the U.S. legal system after COVID-19-related delays.
He also echoed concerns of hate speech targeted at Mexican citizens possibly leading to additional acts of violence.
“We are very aware of the need to always remember (the victims) and the importance of fighting hate speech, racism, xenophobia,” he said. “We have to get rid of those and we have to (prevent) having something like this happening ever again.”