EL PASO, Texas — President Donald Trump condemned white supremacy from the White House Monday, but left Hispanics and Latinos out of his speech.
It’s a significant omission and a stark difference from the written document that has been linked to the 21-year-old gunman who allegedly opened fire on weekend shoppers Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The shooter’s alleged document mentions a Hispanic invasion, the increasing Hispanic population and a decision by its writer to target Hispanics after reading a right wing conspiracy theory asserting Europe’s white population is being replaced with non-Europeans.
The death toll in the El Paso attack, which is being investigated as domestic terrorism, rose to 22 on Monday.
“We’ve got dead bodies. The majority are Hispanic. Some are foreign nationals from Mexico and we got a manifesto describing what he intends to do and why,” said State Rep. Cesar Blanco, a Democrat who represents El Paso.
“I think it’s telling; he failed to mention Latinos,” Blanco said of the president. “He failed to mention that our community is majority Latino, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
The Mexican government confirmed that eight of the victims identified so far were Mexican citizens, not unexpected considering the city of El Paso and surrounding communities of El Paso County, Texas are about 83 percent Latino.
Add to that the number of shoppers and workers from Mexico who legally cross the international border each day to shop, dine, work and visit family. The Walmart is part of a complex of retail outlets, with a Sam’s Club and the Cielo Vista mall next door. There is also a theater close by along with many restaurants and hotels.
Trump did say in the speech that he had sent his condolences to Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, because eight citizens from Mexico were among the dead. But he didn’t make specific mention of El Paso’s residents of Latino descent, who comprise the majority of the community.
Jeramey Maynard, 26, a local artist and restaurant manager, said Trump’s response has been largely political, exemplified by the president’s call to combine gun regulation reforms with immigration reform.
“He’s choosing his words without saying Hispanic or immigrant and making it about other things,” Maynard said. “He’s been having these racist comments. When it comes time to defend the community, of course we are not going to hear him say anything about the Hispanic community.”
Maynard added that he thought Trump “would paint it with the broadest brush he can. Why would he say something he thinks supports the Democratic Party?”
“Target on our back”
Trump launched his 2016 election campaign with disparaging words, seen by many as racist, about people in the United States who have come from Mexico.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems,” Trump said to a largely white crowd at Trump Tower in New York. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people …”
Some defended the president saying he was referring only to immigrants who commit crimes and not speaking of Latinos in the United States as a whole.
But then Trump went on to question the ability of a U.S. district court judge to be impartial because he is of Mexican descent.
Trump’s political rallies have often been filled with chants of “Build the Wall” in reference to his pledge to build a wall across the entire border and make Mexico pay for it.
He responded to the influx of Central Americans seeking asylum by separating children from their parents and allowing border officials to hold them in chain-link pens.
In the past several days, many Latinos have been vocal about what they see as a through line between the president’s rhetoric and the shooting in El Paso.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose district includes El Paso, said she had hoped Trump would have apologized for his rhetoric, which she said put a target on the city’s back.
“I would encourage him to do that,” she said.
The city has seen stark evidence of fear that exists among families because of the Trump hardline on immigration, according to several residents.
Marisa Limón Garcia, deputy director of the Hope Border Institute, said the organization fielded calls from families who were directly affected by the shootings and families who were looking for loved ones.
They were afraid to go to the hospital or to interact with police and border enforcement, who responded to the shooting.
“If you are undocumented or of a mixed status household, the last place you want to go is where there is a tremendous amount of police presence,” Limón Garcia said. Immigrants often are part of families that may include a mix of citizens, legal residents and people without legal status.
Her organization has been working with families to help them get the help they need, but she said it is a daily occurrence for people without legal permission to be in the country to be afraid to go to the hospital.
“This is just another layer of psychological trauma that this community has to face when we have already been ground zero for so many other challenges,” she said.
“The illness is racism and xenophobia”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus pushed Trump to commit to no longer using “invasion“ to describe Hispanic communities, immigrants or refugees to the country.
The caucus also asked the Trump administration to “acknowledge the threat of white supremacy and domestic terrorism” and to “combat this state of emergency head-on” with federal resources.
Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, twin brother of presidential candidate Julián Castro, said in a statement that the caucus is grateful Trump addressed the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, tragedies.
But he said, “this does not make up for the years of attacks by President Trump on Hispanic Americans and our immigrant communities.”
“During the president’s address, he blamed the Internet, news media , mental health and video games, among others … Unfortunately, he did not take responsibility for the xenophobic rhetoric that he has frequently used to demonize and dehumanize Hispanic Americans and immigrants over the past four years.”
But Limón Garcia said the tragedy has not been confined to immigrants.
“Here in El Paso we are a community that is over 80 percent Latino and that means people that are immigrant themselves and then people who have been here for generations,” she said. “It’s clear it was not just a random attack. It’s clear that this cannot be called someone with a mental illness. This illness is racism and xenophobia.”