By Mario Carrillo
When my wife, Angélica, and I married in November 2016, we decided to settle and build our life in Austin. My wife had never been to Texas, but my experience of having grown up here convinced her to make the move.
I grew up in El Paso, after migrating from Mexico with my family when I was 5 years old. For me, Texas has been home, and El Paso is a city that welcomed my family with open arms more than 30 years ago. My parents still live there, and Austin’s proximity to my hometown was a reason I proposed Texas to my wife. And in December 2016, we began our life together in a small one-bedroom apartment in Southwest Austin.
My wife grew up in Utah undocumented and has had DACA for more than 10 years now, and as a mixed-status family we felt that Texas’ history of being a welcoming state – the first to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students, and a state that has long understood the contributions of immigrants – would make it a good place to build our life and start a family.
But in the six years since, our state’s GOP has been on a rapid and frightening descent into extremism, both on immigration and beyond, and at times I’ve started to even feel guilty for convincing my wife to move here, especially now, when in January 2021 we welcomed the birth of our daughter.
Coinciding with the rise in extremism, we’ve also seen a rise in mass shootings and violence, including against migrants, that have shaken our sense of safety. Since moving here in 2016, Texas has suffered mass shootings in Sutherland Springs (2017), Santa Fe High School (2018), El Paso (2019), Midland/Odessa (2019), Uvalde (2022), Cleveland (2023) and most recently at an outlet mall in Allen. That last shooting was reportedly motivated by racist and fascist ideology.
This, along with an attack against migrants in Brownsville in which eight people were killed after being hit by a car driven by someone who allegedly spouted anti-immigrant language, has many Texans on high alert. Several of these attacks were perpetrated by white nationalists who clearly outlined their motivations, including in my hometown’s attack in 2019, in which the El Paso Walmart shooter killed 23 people on that day and blamed the Hispanic “invasion”.
In 2019, the day before the El Paso shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott sent out a fundraising mailer calling on his supporters to “DEFEND” the Texas border, which he then admitted to be a mistake and “emphasized the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way.”
Four years later, it seems that Gov. Abbott and many other Texas Republicans haven’t learned any lessons, and seem intent on continuing to promote the dangerous “replacement” conspiracy theory and using “invasion” language when referring to migrants in social media and ads, when we already know some Texans hear this rhetoric as a call to violence.
As a mixed-status family, raising a daughter in a state in which gun rights are more protected than her own, and in which our state’s leaders would have no problem separating us based on my wife’s immigration status, we’ve had to reflect about our place in Texas. The rise in extremism, the ever-easier access to guns, and the attacks on marginalized communities make us question if we really want to raise our daughter here — and I’m sure we’re not alone.
We’ve been in the process of adjusting my wife’s status for almost five years now, but as someone who’s not yet a permanent resident, we’ve had to have the difficult conversation of what to do if she’s ever detained. Her safety here is not guaranteed. Now we’ve also had to make contingency plans on what would happen if we found ourselves in the middle of a mass shooting or an attack against communities that look like ours.
And in the meantime, our Legislature is trying to pass more bills that would further criminalize migrants and fund border vigilante groups that can go around harassing and detaining people they deem to not belong here. It’s a dangerous time for families like ours, and millions more, in Texas.
We’re also disheartened that several elected officials don’t seem to care if their rhetoric is fomenting violence against people who work and live in Texas and we’re not under the illusion that they’ll change. They seem to thrive on the chaos and fear they create and on the escalation of terrorist violence.
But we are not leaving. Texas is our home and where we’re building our life.
Our hope is to ensure that other Texans understand the dangers that are being created and that we don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to live in a state that promotes hatred of others.
There is a different way forward, in which we can all try to live up the values our country was founded on. That will always be our hope for Texas.
Mario Carrillo is the campaigns manager for America’s Voice and America’s Voice Education Fund, which seeks policy changes that secure freedom and opportunity for immigrants in the United States.