Tuesday’s State of the Union speech was like a middling episode of “The Love Boat” — poorly paced, too many guest stars and Captain Stubing looked a little orange. Or, if you prefer a more contemporary reference, it was like an episode of the weepy drama “This is Us,” mostly in that you wanted to cry when you realized this is us.
But as I was being lulled to sleep by President Trump’s greatest hits of faux bipartisanship, fuzzy economic figures and rampaging immigrant caravans, I perked up at the mention of El Paso, the city I was born in and the border region I lived in for 29 years.
I’ll let the president take it from here.
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said. “Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country. Simply put: Walls work, and walls save lives.”
Huh? Terrible drivers and bland Mexican food, sure; but high rates of violent crime? I don’t think so. El Paso has never been one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. (Homicide is so rare they even wrote a song about a shooting at Rosa’s Cantina).
Sure enough, fact checking after the speech debunked the president’s words. As CNN pointed out, crime had been on a steady decrease for almost 20 years prior to modern fencing going up in 2008. I thought that was a little unfair, since there had been fencing in El Paso for many years before, but even if you go back to the 1990s, when some fencing was put in, there is still no correlation between border barriers and a decrease in violent crime.
It’s unconscionable that the president of the United States used the platform that the State of the Union provides to smear and slander a city like El Paso and to claim the border is suffering an onslaught that doesn’t exist.
Border communities are safe communities. A new map produced by the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan research and policy forum, shows that 22 out of the 23 counties along the southern border are safer than similar counties nationwide.
If you live in a border community that’s not news, yet here we are, having to repeat it yet again.
Does it matter? Is anyone who just knows the border is unsafe willing to listen to facts or to the people who live there?
I’m not optimistic, since falling prey to fear is a lot easier than recognizing reality, even on the border.
As I was reading through the El Paso Times archives this week, stories from the ’90s about the crime rate dropping in the city infallibly included quotes from people who said they didn’t feel safe — that they didn’t care what the numbers said, it wasn’t true. Contrast that to now, when you can find people in the city who don’t even lock their doors.
Perception took a while to change in the community — and that was without someone purposefully spreading misinformation. How long will it take for that perception to ebb nationally once Trump is out of office? For companies to overlook there are now more troops on Mexico’s doorstep than in Syria? For people to forget the sight of row upon row of razor wire strung along the Nogales fence?
Border residents are actively being harmed by President Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric. His obsession with a half-baked campaign promise is doing real damage to our image, casting us as a lawless land where crime is rampant and no one is safe.
It is up to border communities on both sides to keep telling their stories — no matter how tired we are of repeating them — to show that we are more than illegal immigration, more than a gateway for drugs, more than a place to build a wall.