When a gunman stormed a crowded Walmart in El Paso on Saturday, killing at least 22 people and injuring more than two dozen others, the Texas border city was hit with an unprecedented level of bloodshed and grief.
Along with another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio some 13 hours later, the massacre in this border community, unaccustomed to such large-scale acts of violence, reignited the highly contentious national debate around proposals to regulate guns. And for many residents of El Paso — an epicenter of another of the nation’s most divisive issues, immigration — the gruesome attack not only underscored the need to restrict access to high-power weapons like the one used by the alleged assailant, it also represented a clear and direct assault on the city’s diversity and its standing as a welcoming community for migrants.
“We really don’t have to guess. We know. We were targeted because the terrorist wanted to attack a mostly Latino and immigrant community,” Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, told CBS News in an interview. Nestled in the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso, Spanish for “the pass,” sits at the intersection of two U.S. states, Texas and New Mexico, and shares an international border with Ciudad Juárez, the largest city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. In this predominantly Latino community, home to a large group of binational workers and bilingual residents, many business signs are in both English and Spanish and family-owned Mexican eateries stand alongside hipster coffee shops. Escobar and other community members believe their city’s symbolism as a beacon of multiculturalism and strong binational ties attracted the suspected shooter, a 21-year-old white man who is in government custody. The deadly rampage is being treated as an act of domestic terrorism by the Justice Department and a potential hate crime by federal investigators, who are probing a racist, anti-immigrant document purportedly authored by the suspect. The alleged manifesto decries the growing political power of Texas’ large Latino community and denounces progressive positions on immigration. Like other high-profile Democrats, Escobar drew a direct link between President Trump’s hard-line and often inflammatory rhetoric on immigration and the apparent motives of the gunman. In fiery rally speeches and official proclamations touting his hard-line immigration agenda, the president has employed words like “invasion” to describe the movement of migrants.”We have been talked about a lot by the president. We have been ground zero for the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda,” the Texas Democrat said. “That means we’ve been in the news a lot.”Escobar, one of two of the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress, said the El Paso community’s response to a months-long surge of migrants — particularly families with small children — heading toward the southern border was also most likely targeted by the gunman. She said she herself has been targeted because of her advocacy in this field.