El Paso lands in heart of debates over gun violence and immigration

Artist Manuel Oliver had planned to unveil his mural on Sunday at a community event in El Paso, the latest of his works to celebrate the life of his murdered son.

The boy, fatally shot with 16 others in 2018 at a Parkland, Florida, high school, would have turned 19 on Sunday, Oliver said. Joaquin Oliver had been quietly devoted to the cause of immigrants, his father said, and the artist chose El Paso because he saw the border city as an immigration success story.

But 20 people were slaughtered at a Walmart store on Saturday, turning the gathering at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center on Sunday into yet another terrible vigil.

Oliver had been just across the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the day before when a gunman - now believed to have written a manifesto condemning immigrants - opened fire at an El Paso Walmart.

 “It didn’t surprise me and it cannot surprise anyone because we have done so little to stop this from happening,” said Oliver, who became an activist against gun violence after the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

 Saturday’s massacre in El Paso has landed the mostly peaceful and heavily Hispanic city of about 684,000 at the intersection of two of the nation’s most politically volatile issues: immigration and gun violence.

El Paso sits at the far western part of the state, just across the Rio Grande river from Ciudad Juarez, and is one of the busiest ports of entry into the United States from that country.

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Though Juarez is known as a center of cartel- and smuggling-related violence, El Paso is rated on various websites as one of the safest cities in America and among the best places to retire or raise a family. According to KVIA, a local ABC affiliate, it averages 16 murders a year.

‘SAFE COMMUNITY’

At another vigil on Sunday, hundreds of El Paso community members mourned together at the County Sports Park. Among those they prayed for were Guillermo “Memo” Garcia, 35, and his wife, Jessica Coca Garcia, both injured Saturday as they were running a fundraiser for their daughter’s soccer team in front of the Walmart.

Adults and children sporting baseball and soccer uniforms from across the city lit candles at the baseball diamond where the American flag was flying at half-staff.

Jessica Coca Garcia and fellow team mother Maribel Saenzpardo were both struck in the legs by bullets and remain in hospital, conscious and stable. Memo Garcia was still in an induced coma when other coaches visited Sunday afternoon, one of the visitors told Reuters.

“El Paso has historically been a very safe community,” Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from the city, told the Dallas Morning News after the shooting. “This is someone who came from outside our community to do us harm. A community that has shown nothing but generosity and kindness to the least among us. Those people arriving at America’s front door.”

But El Paso has for months been a flashpoint in the immigration debate as the campaign for the 2020 presidential election has heated up, with some in President Donald Trump’s administration casting it as the embodiment of a border in crisis.

Opponents of Trump’s policies have decried conditions in crowded detention facilities in the area and also pointed to dangerous conditions in Ciudad Juarez, where thousands of aspiring immigrants have been sent to await outcomes of their U.S. court hearings.

El Paso has seen the largest jump in migrant apprehensions of any sector this fiscal year through June compared to last year during the same period. Particularly striking have been family apprehensions, which hit 117,612 this fiscal year through June, up from 6,326 in the same period in 2017, according to government statistics.

The city’s population is overwhelmingly Hispanic and by far most residents are American citizens, according to Data USA. El Paso also has strong cross-border ties. The mall at which the shooting occurred is often visited by residents of Juarez, although the flow of migrants has recently slowed.

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El Paso shootingMass shootingGun control