Residents in majority-Hispanic El Paso told US President Donald Trump Tuesday to stay away amid fury over his anti-immigration rhetoric as he struggles to unite the country in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings that killed 31 people.
Trump is scheduled to stop off in the Texan border city where 22 died in a weekend gun massacre on Wednesday, after first visiting Dayton, Ohio, where another gunman shot nine dead.
The president called on Americans in a nationwide address Monday to condemn bigotry — but community leaders say his words rang hollow set against a longstanding refusal to call out white supremacy and a history of tweets widely condemned as racist.
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” tweeted Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential hopeful and former congressman who grew up in the city.
Before opening fire at a Walmart superstore in El Paso, the 21-year-old suspected gunman, who is white and from the Dallas area, reportedly posted an online manifesto railing against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Critics pointed out that the language echoed much of Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter and at rallies, where he has frequently framed Hispanic migrants as part of an “invasion.”
Trump has also characterized Mexicans and Central Americans as criminals, gang members and rapists, and described the communities of African American lawmakers on several occasions as “infested” with crime and filth.
Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, whose district includes the area targeted by the El Paso gunman, urged Trump “to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this.”
“From my perspective, he is not welcome here,” Escobar told MSNBC. “He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway accused Democrats of politicising a moment of acute pain while Trump was trying to “bring the country together, heal a nation.”
She was backed by the chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, Adolpho Telles, who defended Trump’s visit but told CNN he needs to be more careful about his language.
In his nationwide address, Trump spoke out against racism but blamed mental illness, video games and the internet for fueling gun violence, sidestepping the fact that other countries with these issues do not have mass shootings.
He had nothing substantial to say about gun control measures, drawing expressions of disappointment from those hoping for a healing moment.