A Year After El Paso Shooting Biden Condemns Trump's Record on Latinos

One year ago a white supremacist drove 600 miles over 10 hours from Dallas to a Walmart in El Paso to kill Mexican-Americans, Latinos and immigrants in a hate crime that shocked the nation. Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is releasing video tributes to mark the anniversary, saying that President Donald Trump has fostered a climate on race in America that led to the mass shooting.

"This anniversary is a moment to resummon the purpose we felt one year ago and to recommit to the battle for the soul of this nation—a battle against the forces of white supremacy that are part of the very foundations of our nation but which this president has encouraged and emboldened," Biden says in one video, which the campaign provided to Newsweek ahead of its public release Monday.

The shooting left 23 dead and more than two dozen injured, mostly Latino, including Mexican nationals, who were shopping in the U.S. in a city known for cross-border commerce. The shooter, Patrick Crusius, 22, posted a hate-filled screed online that warned of a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." He is charged with hate crimes resulting in death, hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, use of a firearm to commit murder and in relation to a crime of violence, and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

The campaign also released two tributes to El Paso on Saturday, which are new additions to its paid Latino media program in Texas and Arizona, a spokesperson told Newsweek. "The words a president utters matter. How far is it from Trump saying 'this is an invasion,' to the shooter in El Paso declaring 'this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas?'" Biden says in the ads, both in English, with one having Spanish-language subtitles.

"Trump set up in so many ways the hateful rhetoric that led to the massacre," Biden senior advisor Cristobal Alex told Newsweek in an interview.

The Biden campaign argued that not only that Trump's caustic approach to race led to the attack, but that El Paso has been in the crosshairs "since Donald Trump came down those escalators, when he attacked immigrants, when he attacked Mexicans," Alex said. El Paso was the site of a detention center holding migrant children last summer that led to a march to end the detention of children a month before the shooting occurred. The hate crime which followed is now the biggest case in city history.

The Trump campaign directed a Newsweek request for comment on the anniversary of the shooting and the Biden campaign's comments to the White House. The White House did not respond to a request for comment by publication. At the time, Trump said the nation was "overcome with shock, horror and sorrow" and said he was concerned by "white supremacy and antifa."

Alex said he was with Biden who was giving remarks in Las Vegas last August when he learned of the shooting and immediately called Representative Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso in Beto O'Rourke's old district. A photo taken during the call shows Biden, head bowed, speaking on the phone, with another phone in his other hand as aides looked on. In public remarks after the shooting, Biden said Trump "fanned the flames of white supremacy." On Sunday, Escobar and Alex held a roundtable discussion marking the anniversary.

A year later, amid a pandemic and national reckoning on race spurred by the killing of George Floyd, the scars of the hate crime remain.

"What scares me the most is that no one will remember the people that died in El Paso," said Julissa Arce, activist and author of "My Underground American Dream."

Latino leaders and activists who spoke to Newsweek said that violence against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans throughout history in Texas was not new. One such attack, the infamous Porvenir massacre, happened 101 years before the El Paso shooting, only 175 miles away. The victims, ranging from the age of 16 to 72, were killed by Texas Rangers, U.S. Army cavalry, and ranchers. Descendants of those who were killed fought for, and finally received, a historical marker commemorating the attack in 2018.

"Most people don't know that happened," Arce said, becoming emotional. "They had to fight to get a tiny little marker to remember their families."

In the wake of the El Paso hate crime, Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott invoked mental health issues for the mass shooter, rather than deal with thorny issues of racial rhetoric and gun control. "Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun," Trump said two days after the shooting.

A year later, many Latinos said they still feel angry, pointing to political rhetoric that has targeted Latinos and immigrants as a cause for the mass shooting.

"What led to El Paso was the constant rhetoric from the administration and his allies that equate Latinos to being non-Americans and say immigrants are the problem that we face in America," said Jaclyn Uresti, executive director of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in Texas, the oldest Latino caucus in the country. "That kind of vitriol led to El Paso and the intentional killing of people because our lives are worth less. "It's systematic racism, but also plain old racism."

el paso hate crime
People gather at a makeshift memorial honoring victims outside Walmart August 15, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. 22 people were killed in Walmart during a mass shooting on August 3rd. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sandy Huffaker/Getty