By Christina Garcia
When we lift and raise our “El Paso Strong” pride, where do we leave our brothers and sisters from Mexico who were also present during the shooting in Walmart on Aug. 3?
This is something that I have been grappling with over the last year. How is it possible for a 21 year old to be filled with so much hate, xenophobic and racist views, compelled to drive over nine hours to hurt so many innocent lives? The 23 killed in this attack included nine Mexican nationals, two who had become naturalized U.S. citizens.
His manifesto only helped to confirm that much of his views stemmed by rhetoric from the president and an administration that has continuously portrayed immigrants in a negative and inaccurate way, deeming them dangerous and criminal and claiming that our border was unsafe, and enacted laws and policies that strip them of their rights.
Living on the border, we understand this inaccurate portrayal of our border communities and know that the issues we face are complex. Often, our communities are seen as a physical border, not as a community with real people. It is critical to highlight this, when we see the grave impacts our communities have experienced as a result of the deeply rooted militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, which is part of the problem in policy making.
I wonder if, as a community, are we subconsciously feeding into a racial binary of exclusiveness based on where we are born, the color of our skin, the language we speak, and the level of assimilation within our accents? Then why not include Juárez, as we move towards healing and continuing to support those affected by this mass shooting? Maybe it’s because even healing is a complex topic that does not have a one-sided approach.
Immigration has become such a polarized issue that it often is dismissed as politics. Many fail to see it as a human issue. Policies like family separation, remain in Mexico and now Title 42 have all been weaponized against a very specific type of immigrant, including those most vulnerable, such as asylum seekers.
Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act back in 2000, which was created to encourage people to report crimes, particularly those who would otherwise not report crimes in fear of deportation.
The law offers protections to victims and witnesses, who courageously step forward for the benefit of the investigation and prosecution of a case and who truly believe in our justice system. Congress allows 10,000 visas per year to such victims and witnesses, which in time can lead to legal permanent status and citizenship.
Due to growing backlogs over the last few years, there is currently a minimum of a 56-month waiting period to get a preliminary adjudication. As of the end of 2019, more than 151,000 people were waiting for a U Visa. However, these protections are slowly being stripped away, with a looming furlough of over 70% of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agents who help process these visas.
Many of those affected by the Walmart shooting – either by losing a loved one, being physically injured or living with psychological trauma – will very likely wait over 15 years to get a U Visa. Some may end up being deported in the process.
U.S. citizens and non-citizens who were victims of the Walmart shooting are treated differently. For one, those living in Mexico did not qualify for crime victim compensation assistance, a benefit from the office of the attorney general, which helps absorb any expense as a result of the crime.
Having access to continued medical treatment or mental health support was a large feat for many living in Juárez or further in the interior of Mexico, who additionally had to deal with the long lines at the border and often times abuses from CBP agents.
When reflecting on the response from the community, we should be proud to see how we came together to fill these gaps. Through a national response model for mass casualty incidents, the National Compassion Fund came to help support our community.
Unfortunately, mass shootings have impacted far too many communities, sharing the traumas of these attacks. Aug. 3 will forever be engraved in my memory for several reasons.
I remember the day starting with the Oliver family remembering their son Joaquin Oliver and sharing his story. He had been killed a year before in a mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida, along with 17 other members of their community.
The Olivers came to our border community to honor the legacy of their son and uplift the issues dear to them, such as immigration, child separation and the need for gun reform. I remember being in Juárez with the Olivers, a few coworkers from Las Americas, and several immigrants sharing their stories about forced migration and their asylum claims.
As we heard the news of the Walmart shooting, I remember feeling safer in Juárez than in El Paso. They day ended with another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, leaving nine dead.
As we approach elections, let us see our power and continue to take up spaces and speak truth to power. Let us see each other as humans, regardless of the shade of our skin, where we were born, if we come from a working class family or wealth, we are all humans and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
We must consciously do better and become aware of our own implicit biases that for many of us have been perpetuated by this very border. As we walk with those affected and honor the legacies of those no longer with us, let us recognize our lineage and connections to immigration as we continue to heal.
Christina Garcia is deputy director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.
Cover photo: A number of Mexican flags were left at a makeshift memorial near the Cielo Vista Walmart in tribute to the citizens of that country killed and injured in the Aug. 3, 2019, attack. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)