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Democrats and advocacy groups warn of rise in hate speech ahead of El Paso shooting anniversary

Mourners gather at memorial crosses near the scene of a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Aug. 3.
John Locher
Mourners gather at memorial crosses near the scene of a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Aug. 3.

As El Paso prepares to recognize the anniversary of the racially motivated attack that killed 23 people at a Walmart, Democrats and advocacy groups are sounding alarm bells over the rise of hate speech by members of Congress.

Wednesday marks four years since a gunman drove more than 600 miles from Allen, Texas, to El Paso to target Hispanics to ward off what he called an “invasion of Texas” in an online posting. The man was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences in federal court last month and still faces state charges.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- San Antonio, joined with advocacy groups to draw attention to “invasion” rhetoric that they warn is becoming mainstream and embraced by elected officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and several members of Congress.

“The rhetoric we’re seeing in that same Congress points to a new wave of xenophobic politicians who want to take our country in a dangerous direction,” Castro said. “Since the beginning of the year members of Congress have dehumanized and demonized migrants as invaders and talked about an invasion at the southern border 90 times in their official capacity. When our political leaders normalize and encourage this kind of rhetoric, they embolden violent people to put their hate into action, as we saw in El Paso.”

Castro also called out Abbott for the state-led border mission he started two years ago, called Operation Lone Star, and recent reports that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have mistreated migrants and placed razor wire in the Rio Grande.

“White supremacy is how you end up with a governor placing razor wire and refusing to offer water to migrants at the Texas-Mexico border,” Castro said.

Abbott denied that members of the mission were told to mistreat the migrants.

“No orders or directions have been given under Operation Lone Star that would compromise the lives of those attempting to cross the border illegally,” he said in a joint statement with other Operation Lone Star leaders. His office did not respond to a request for comment about Castro’s remarks.

Castro and the advocacy groups also unveiled a letter Tuesday sent to the current Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress urging them to rein in hateful rhetoric by certain members, including several Texans. The coalition includes the Texas organizations Asian Texans for Justice, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services Inc., El Paso Holocaust Museum, La Union del Pueblo Entero, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Voces Unidas RGV and Woori Juntos.

“Again and again, our country has experienced hate violence inspired by this conspiratorial rhetoric. We know this because terrorists tell us this in their screeds. Driven by fears of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion,’ terrorists targeted the Latino community in El Paso, Texas, Black Americans in Buffalo, New York, and Jews in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in Poway, California, among other communities,” the group wrote.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the vice president of advocacy group UnidosUS, said she was in disbelief that the issue still needed to be addressed at all.

“I wish we were not here today,” she said. “I am dumbfounded that we have to issue a call to our elected officials to unequivocally denounce white supremacist rhetoric and ask members to refrain from using it.”

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom