El Paso community leaders reacted angrily Tuesday night after President Trump repeated false claims that the city was violent and dangerous before a border wall was built. Trump—apparently acting on bogus information from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—has made the claim several times in recent weeks, and did so Tuesday night during his State of the Union address.
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and (was) considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities,” Trump said. El Paso officials have spent years debunking claims that it’s a dangerous community—former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke made El Paso’s safety a focal point of his Senate campaign last year—but on Tuesday night, many of them snapped.
“He lies. @POTUS is once again lying and using the #SOTU address to spread falsehoods about our beloved city of El Paso. Fact is that El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the nation long before the wall was built in 2008. #WallsDontWork,” Representative Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said on Twitter.
Fact is that El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the nation long before the wall was built in 2008. #WallsDontWork
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) February 6, 2019
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Jon Barela, the chief executive officer of the Borderplex Alliance, which leads economic development efforts in the El Paso region, used similar pointed language on Twitter. He is a former top aide to New Mexico Republican Governor Susana Martinez, and narrowly lost an Albuquerque congressional race in 2010. “President’s message about El Paso is a lie. El Paso was safe before the border wall. The President is living in an alternative universe based on a false narrative and offensive comments about our way of life. I say this as a life long Republican, businessman, and proud American.”
President's message about El Paso is a lie. El Paso was safe before the border wall. The President is living in an alternative universe based on a false narrative and offensive comments about our way of life. I say this as a life long Republican, businessman, and proud American.
— Jon Barela (@JonBarela1) February 6, 2019
El Paso has repeatedly made lists of the nation’s safest cities for almost two decades. Escobar on Tuesday posted tweets of newspaper headlines dating to 2000 about El Paso’s safe city rankings. Extensive fencing was completed in 2010 under a bill approved by Congress in 2006. El Paso has continued to have lower crime rates than most other U.S. cities of more than 500,000 people. Most border cities also have lower crime rates than cities of similar size in the country’s interior.
In interviews with Texas Monthly after the State of the Union Tuesday night, Barela and Escobar said Trump and others who make false claims about El Paso’s safety are doing significant damage to the community. Barela deals with safety questions frequently during trips to recruit businesses to El Paso and fears Trump’s State of the Union speech will make it even more difficult to build El Paso’s economy. “It’s frustrating to me to have to explain that El Paso is one of the safest or the safest cities of its size in the entire country. Most of these businesses are surprised to hear those statistics and these false narratives and frankly lies that are perpetuated by the administration doesn’t help us create jobs,” he said.
Escobar said the State of the Union speech was another example of Trump saying whatever he wants in order to make a political case, whether grounded in reality or not. “It’s his desperate attempt to do anything and say anything in order to convince the American public that we need a wall. And I don’t think Americans buy it. But it is harmful to the community, it’s harmful to the border. And frankly it’s a part of his race baiting,” she said.
Barela and Escobar said El Paso and other border cities have to continue to push back aggressively on efforts by Trump and others to falsely characterize the region for political gain. But Escobar said Republican leaders have to stand up. “There is a real blow to all of us when we have the president lying about us on national television during the State of the Union address. It is unacceptable. His own party needs to hold them accountable. I would hope that Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn would stand up for the truth and stand up for the border communities that they represent in the Senate. His party needs to hold him accountable,” she said.
Spokespersons for Cruz and Cornyn didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.