By Janet Murguía, UnidosUS President and CEO
On August 2, 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott published a fundraising letter calling on supporters to “defend” the Texas border from allegedly unchecked unauthorized migration. A few hours later, according to law enforcement authorities, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius posted a hate-filled manifesto online declaring his intention to defend the US against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” His screed also indicated his belief that mass killings would deter immigrants abroad from coming to the U.S. and encourage migrants already here to return home. On August 3 Crusius drove to a Walmart in El Paso known to have a predominantly Hispanic clientele and, wielding an assault rifle, shot and killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen, one of whom later died from his injuries.
In the wake of the massacre, journalists found that El Paso wasn’t a “one-off” event. Numerous other mass murderers—including the Christchurch gunman who killed 51 worshippers, as well as shooters in Poway, California and Pittsburgh who together killed a dozen others—posted or referred to manifestos declaring immigrants as “invaders.” Other investigators unearthed literally thousands of references to “invasions” of immigrants and attributing virtually every societal ill—crime, disease, job losses, environmental degradation—to allegedly growing rates of unauthorized immigration.
But here’s the thing: these claims are all false and have been repeatedly debunked by researchers and social scientists. To take just one example: at the time of Gov. Abbott’s fundraising letter the border was more secure than at any time in recent history, as proven by the fact that the unauthorized immigrant population had been reduced by more than one million since 2010. Even today, the largely Central American migrants coming to the country aren’t trying to sneak in. They’re actually presenting themselves to law enforcement in order to apply for asylum, as is their right under both international and U.S. laws, according to human rights experts (see here and here).
After a few days of near-total silence after the El Paso shootings, Gov. Abbott finally acknowledged that “mistakes were made and course correction has been made” in reference to the rhetoric used in his fundraising letter. But over the past months, contradicting his 2019 commitment to tone down the rhetoric, Gov. Abbott was back at it.
Alongside his lieutenant governor who said that “we are being invaded” by immigration, the governor claimed without citing any evidence that homes and property along the border are being “invaded.” Fact checkers, including PolitiFact, promptly labeled as false these and related claims of “carnage” at the border. The governor also instructed state law enforcement to pull over vehicles suspected of carrying migrants. The Department of Justice correctly is suing to block the order on multiple grounds, not the least of which is that it practically requires state police to engage in racial profiling.
Abbott is hardly the first politician to use incendiary rhetoric on immigration, and he certainly won’t be the last. But it’s noteworthy that he’s doing so even as Latinos across the country somberly commemorate the second anniversary of one of the worst mass murders that took place in his own home state.
History has proven that when politicians and media commentators repeatedly raise fears of “invasion,” claim that “carnage” is taking place at the border and assert that the federal government is doing nothing about it, some people will take it upon themselves to act, often violently—no matter how false and groundless the claims turn out to be.
Days after the El Paso shooting in 2019, I called it “the violence Latinos have been dreading,” and asked Americans across the political spectrum to “reject fear, hate, division, and violence” and to “engage in dialogue” to elevate our common values. Instead of honoring those who lost their lives that day, bringing people together to ensure such an event never happens again—or even taking the tiny step of refraining from repeating the words that motivated Patrick Crusius from allegedly murdering 23 people—it’s truly unfortunate that Gov. Abbott, other politicians, and media commentators are choosing to do the opposite.
Once again, our community is dreading what comes next. As El Paso Representative Veronica Escobar warned Gov. Abbott, if God forbid another mass shooting of Latinos occurs, their blood will be on his hands.