El Paso Congressional Field Hearing Statement

The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a field hearing in El Paso, TX last week. The hearing focused on the conditions along the southern border and the violence aimed at the immigrant communities. The hearing, titled “Oversight of the Trump Administration’s Border Policies and the Relationship Between Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Domestic Terrorism,” was led by El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-TX). Other committee members in attendance included Chairman Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Garcia (D-TX), Rep. Neguse (D-CO), and Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX). Republican committee members were invited to attend but declined the invitation. The field hearing comes a month after the Cielo Vista Walmart mass shooting that took the lives of 22 people. As part of the hearing, Sonia Melendez Reyes, Senior Manager of Policy and Engagement, and Stephanie Roman, Programs Associate, facilitated a healing dinner titled: “El Paso: Our Story, Our Healing, Our Response,” that focused on El Pasoans response to the recent domestic terrorist attack and the language of hate and its impact. The dinner welcome was given by Pastor Brian, who’s daughter survived a gun-shot wound(s) on August 3, 2019 and although his speech was firm and poised, it seemed that beneath the surface was the same thought living inside most of the people they had spoken with, “we need to find a way to end hate and live a life of love.” Two perspectives stood out that evening. The first, from a doctor in El Paso, Texas who’s husband, a police officer, was immediately called in to respond to the active shooting. The doctor shared in an almost numbing facet manner with her arms crossed, “this (shooting) didn’t surprise me and I wasn’t shocked, I grew up in a family with 5 police officers. If the government didn’t care about all the little white kids who died at Sandy Hook (2012), no one is going to care that a bunch of Mexicans were targeted.” What was most striking was her numbness to the pain—as if she had given up hope and that she felt “forgotten”. The second, was from a woman who recalled, “believing the shooter was someone from the cartel,” when she first received the warning alert on her cellphone of an active shooter. She didn’t recognize her unconscious bias; her immediate response to believing it was a person of color who crossed into the U.S. to kill. Isn’t that reinforcing the xenophobic narrative fueled by the current administration? After the conversation, Sonia and Stephanie visited the memorial. “Ironically the memorial sits on a fence (border) separating the Walmart where the shooting happened and the parking lot where folks are allowed to walk in. This is as close as we can get to Walmart. I thought it was ironic because part of the narrative around Latinos and those migrating is that we take more than we give, yet here on this fence I could see the many ways Latinos give,” Stephanie said. “They give in prayer, in art forms like drawing, or sculptures, they give words of hope and light candles in memory of lost souls. They pour their heart out on a poster board and hang it for others to read, I was very proud that Latinos and the community of El Paso had chosen love over hate, and that on this fence they had reclaimed it as their own and chose to share their feelings of hope.”