WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said El Paso serves as today’s Ellis Island for migrants crossing the border to escape violence and find work that “no one else” wants to do.
In the 1890s through 1954, some 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island, New York, and registered with U.S. immigration officials.
“I love way Fernando [Garcia] is talking about El Paso and El Segundo Barrio being the Ellis Island for so much of the world. I can’t imagine how many millions of American families took their first step here in El Paso, coming from the world over via the United States-Mexico border. And their very presence, we should argue, make this country safer and stronger, more exceptional, more successful,” O’Rourke said on a conference call organized by America’s Voice ahead of the “March for Truth” held this evening to counter President Trump’s rally in El Paso.
Fernando Garcia, executive director at the Border Network for Human Rights, Linda Rivas from the Women’s March El Paso, and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) joined O’Rourke on the call.
During the State of the Union address last week, Trump said, “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime – one of the highest in the country and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, immediately upon its building with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities. Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”
O’Rourke, who was born there, described El Paso as one of the safest cities before physical barriers were constructed on the border. He said many of the migrants crossing the border are fleeing violence and seeking jobs “no one else will take.”
“Our safety is a result of treating one another with respect and with dignity, and this community owning its responsibilities to one another and our safety, by extension, makes not the just the border a safer place, not just Texas, but this entire country. And I think that’s the part of the message we get to share tonight,” he said. “We’re also going to describe the future from our perspective in our terms – the big, bold, beautiful things we want to do.”
O’Rourke said the protesters are calling for protecting DREAMers and welcoming asylum-seekers with “open arms” as well as making sure “we really live our ideals and our promise to one another.”
A reporter asked O’Rourke if his participation in the rally to counter Trump means he is gearing up for a presidential run.
“No, it does not. I’m following the congresswoman’s lead here and acknowledging that the reason this is happening is because the community came together,” he replied, referring to Escobar. “I’m going to follow the community’s lead. For me, that’s what tonight is about – nothing less and nothing more.”
Escobar said the “March for Truth” participants were going to show their “border pride” as Trump’s rally gets underway.
“We feel anger in El Paso and there is nothing wrong with that. And they decided to channel that into something so democratic and something so American as a march and as a rally. I’m very proud of them for doing that and I’m so honored to be one of their guests,” she said. “I’m especially proud of the way this community feels intense pride about our location on the U.S.-Mexico border. When you talk to El Pasoans at that rally, you will feel that fierce community pride, the fierce border pride that we have.”
Escobar attributed much of El Paso’s safety to the success of community policing in which local law enforcement work together with documented and undocumented immigrants.
“It is a co-policing of sorts in order to achieve safety and security – that’s why El Paso is safe – that’s why we became safe in the 1990s,” she said.