I am filled with a mixture of horror, sorrow, and anger as I reflect on what the families and people in El Paso and Dayton are going through after losing their loved ones. The pain they are experiencing is the deepest imaginable, and they deserve the nation’s most sincere compassion and support.
The hate-filled rhetoric and policies that are coming from the highest levels of the U.S. government are creating a climate of fear and violence in this country. Threatening language that demonizes immigrants, people of color and political opponents, whether it is in the Oval Office, online, or while whipping up a frenzy at a rally, divides, dehumanizes and endangers people who then become victims of cruel policies and violent acts.
I had a chance to visit El Paso last week. There, I witnessed the many people who work every day to help make El Paso a strong and vibrant binational city. I met dedicated people on both sides of the border who have been working in shelters to care for migrants. And I also saw how hateful rhetoric and policies are operationalized in a way that dehumanizes and endangers people seeking asylum every single day.
On the U.S.-Mexico border, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent giving us a tour that started with what felt like a script told us a story about a deported rapist who had recently been apprehended trying to reenter the United States. I asked the agent what percentage of migrants apprehended in the El Paso sector were voluntarily turning themselves in to CBP agents to apply for asylum.
“About 80 percent,” he responded, adding that he used to chase people, but now they come to him. He said most “bodies” now are voluntarily presenting themselves. I learned that in Border Patrol lingo, “bodies” in this sense means living human beings—usually families these days.
We must demand that our political leaders end the divisive and dangerous anti-immigrant campaign that feeds violence.
It is widely known that the vast majority of migrants currently apprehended at the border are fleeing violence and other threats, mostly in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They are not criminals, they do not pose a threat to the United States, and they are certainly not bodies; they are vibrant humans, with stories of hope and despair, trying to do what any of us would do under extreme duress—try to find a better, safer life.
Yet, from the CBP agent, and from President Trump’s speeches and Twitter feed, the dominant narrative is that we are under invasion by rapists and other bad hombres (and, apparently, bad kids, bad babies, bad mothers and fathers).
This narrative, led from the top by the president and his circle, with many in his party silently complicit, is Trump’s electoral and governing strategy. We see its impact in the suffering of migrants who make the trek nobody would wish upon their own families. We see it in the pain of our communities now grieving the victims of a gunman inspired by a leader who traffics in hate speech, fomenting at worst and ignoring at best the hateful conspiracy theories that drive criminal acts as horrific as the mass shooting in El Paso.
We must demand changes in gun culture and the lax regulations that privilege the rights of gun owners over victims of gun violence. And we must demand that our political leaders end the divisive and dangerous anti-immigrant campaign that feeds violence. In El Paso, we are seeing this week—in the most horrifically visible way imaginable—the full impact of hateful rhetoric and policies.
We must do better.