It was the ultimate cowboy ballad. Late in 1959 Marty Robbins released El Paso – that song about the cowboy, out in the West Texas town of El Paso, who fell in love with a Mexican girl. Within a few months the single was number one on both the country and pop charts. It was a great tune with a compelling narrative – the smitten guy who kills a seeming rival and has to get out of town quick, then cannot help himself. He knows the law will take him and hang him if he returns, but he has to see that Mexican girl one more time. He’s shot dead trying, and as he dies in the dusty streets of El Paso, the girl gives him one last kiss. It’s very Shakespearean, in a Tex-Mex sort of way. It’s a keeper. Even the Grateful Dead did a cover of it.
But of course it doesn’t get much play these days. And perhaps that’s because the idea of the devastatingly attractive Mexican – the Mexican girl that Gringo cowboy just couldn’t quit – just doesn’t fit the current narrative we’ve got going about Mexicans. They’re the bad guys now – shiftless and dirty and sloppy and out to take our jobs, when they’re not in gangs or running drug cartels, and they fill up our public schools, and flood our emergency rooms, all the while talking funny, in Spanish of all things. We want them gone. That Marty Robbins song would just puzzle people now.
And of course El Paso is no longer a dusty little cowboy town. The army has the ironically named giant Fort Bliss there, and El Paso itself is just another relatively large city, with Toyota dealerships and strip malls and all the rest. And just across what passes for a river, in Mexico proper, there’s Juarez, the drug-murder capital of the western world. So there’s no cultural mixing in any cantina, like in the Marty Robbins song, but crime in El Paso is surprisingly low. The place is kind of boring. If you’ve been to El Paso you know it has a sort of shut-down nowhere feel to it. And it looks like the end of the earth – the White Sands area stretches far out to the north, hundreds of miles of scorching bleak emptiness, all the way out to Alamogordo, where we set off the very first atomic bomb, to see if it worked. It did. This is end-of-the-world apocalypse country.
El Paso was forgotten, but on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, President Obama went to El Paso and gave a speech on immigration reform – he called for legalizing the millions of undocumented but otherwise hardworking and law-abiding folks already here, not calling for amnesty, but suggesting newly legalized workers could pay fines and taxes, learn English, and submit to background checks and wait their turn to apply for permanent status. Obama said that the border was more secure than ever, and more people, who want to be here, and want to work, and actually want to pay taxes, might be good for the country. And he made a case for the DREAM Act – allow conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who did nothing wrong but follow their parents across the border when they were minors. That legislation would legalize those students who have been in the country for five years or more, and who are really enmeshed in English and American culture and not much else, and who go to college or serve in the military. You don’t punish them for what their parents did. These are good people who are good for the country.
Of course no one was buying any of this – the Republicans had already dug in. They didn’t need the Hispanic vote and they were going to make Obama a one-term president. Immigration reform was boring. They’d repeal Obamacare and dismantle whatever else they could. Everyone forget El Paso.
That didn’t work out. Mitt Romney did no better than John McCain. Obama had his second term – but the Republicans had learned their lesson. Immigration reform wasn’t boring. Make keeping “those people” out the be-all and end-all of governance. They’d need a candidate who sneered at “those people” – and at Muslims too – and at anyone who wanted in, for any reason. They needed a brash and loud xenophobic anti-immigrant bigot to get people all riled up and keep them riled up about “those people” – who had to be stopped. They needed to get back to El Paso – but not in a Marty Robbins kind of way. Jeb Bush was the one who has fallen in love with that Mexican girl – he married her and they’ve been happy for years and years – so he wouldn’t do. They needed someone like Donald Trump. They got Donald Trump. They got the real thing.
So it was back to El Paso, for a showdown in the streets this time. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker explains that:
President Trump’s push to get Congress to fund his proposed border wall officially converged with his 2020 reelection campaign here on Monday night, as the president and potential Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke staged dueling rallies in this vibrant border city. The two events along the U.S.-Mexico border encapsulated the fierce debate over illegal immigration and border security that has been roiling Washington and is emerging as a flash point in the presidential campaign.
And this was an attempt to turn things around:
At the start of a consequential week at the U.S. Capitol, where congressional negotiators are seeking to avoid another government shutdown, the president tried to use the backdrop of O’Rourke’s hometown to argue that a wall would help protect border communities. With four days to go before a partial government shutdown, Trump took Air Force One to the border in an attempt to gain a political advantage in an immigration debate that polls show he has been losing.
So it was time for sneers and insults:
In a meandering, 75-minute speech, Trump tried to paint an image of crime and lawlessness on the border while claiming falsely that violent crime went down in El Paso after a wall was built.
“We need the wall, and it has to be built, and we want to build it fast,” he said. Pausing to listen to chants of “Build that wall,” Trump sought to correct his supporters: “Now, you really mean finish the wall,” he said, claiming that his promised border wall was already under construction.
He referred to O’Rourke several times during the rally, calling the former congressman “a young man who’s got very little going for himself.” Trump claimed O’Rourke’s rally was poorly attended and that his 2018 election loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) should disqualify him from seeking higher office.
“How about Beto?” Trump said, during a lengthy screed attacking Democrats over policies he labeled as “socialism.” “Beto was defeated, too. But he suffered a great defeat.”
The rowdy crowd repeatedly burst into chants of “USA! USA!” and “Build that wall!” to drown out several demonstrators who interrupted Trump multiple times.
Beto is a loser, and that’s that, but meanwhile:
About a mile down the road, several thousand demonstrators gathered at a high school carrying American flags, rainbow banners, “Beto for President” flags, and flags for Mexico and Texas. There were also signs decrying Trump and his border wall – such as “Trump made America hate again” – and chants from the crowd that included “Make tacos, not walls!”
O’Rourke – who has disagreed vehemently with Trump’s depiction of El Paso as crime-ridden before construction of a border fence – has pointed to statistics showing that the city was one of America’s safest cities long before the fencing was installed a decade ago. Local officials also have said that the physical barrier has had no impact on the city’s relatively low rate of violent crime.
It was facts versus sneers, but Rucker points out Trump had already been on a roll:
Trump traded words with Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) over the weekend as they announced their presidential campaigns.
On Monday, the president sharply attacked Democrats, calling them “the party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime.” For the first time, he singled out the “Green New Deal” – a climate-change action plan backed by several presidential contenders – saying it would virtually eliminate air travel.
“To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care,” he said. “They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”
And all he’s going to do is shut down the government if he doesn’t get his wall, or not:
Another government shutdown could further harden battle lines. Key lawmakers said they had reached an agreement late Monday with enough time to secure House and Senate approval this week and avoid another shutdown. Government funding for several agencies is set to expire Friday. And it’s not clear whether Trump, who is considering declaring a national emergency over border security, would ultimately support any deal reached by Congress.
He could just say “screw it” and shut down the government, because he can, and people need to be reminded that he can. He can do anything he wants, and no one can do one single thing about it. That was the El Paso message:
Trump has often played the role of spoiler after lawmakers reach bipartisan agreements, and he has been dismissive of the negotiations. On Monday, Trump said he had not yet heard the details of the tentative agreement, but he said it would not matter because he would build the wall one way or another.
“As I was walking up to the stage, they said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump told his El Paso crowd. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”
Trump alluded to building the wall by declaring a national emergency, which would trigger executive authority to reallocate federal funds for wall construction, by telling rally-goers, “We’re setting the stage. We’re setting the table.”
No one can stop him, on anything, and that seems to be what this was about:
Trump’s campaign released a video before the president’s visit featuring El Paso residents who claimed that fencing has improved safety in their community.
O’Rourke offered a direct contrast to Trump’s rhetoric during his opposing rally less than a mile away from the president’s event. On Friday, O’Rourke published a Medium post laying out his argument for why Trump’s characterization of El Paso is wrong and why a wall is not needed, along with 10 proposals for immigration policy.
“The President, using the same racist, inflammatory rhetoric of years past, seeks to build a wall, to take kids from their parents, to deploy the U.S. Army on American soil, to continue mass deportations and to end the protection for Dreamers,” wrote O’Rourke, who has said he will decide by the end of this month whether to run for president.
El Paso is back, and just a note:
Officials in El Paso rebuked President Trump in advance of his visit to the border city on Monday night, assailing the president for falsely crediting the Texas city’s safety to the border fence that was built there 10 years ago.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D), who represents the city in Congress, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, District Attorney Jaime Esparza, and Commissioner Carlos Leon said Trump’s statements threatened to damage the town’s reputation.
And what he said wasn’t even close to true:
Trump had made the city a centerpiece of his push for a border wall during the State of the Union address last week, saying that its fence, which was constructed between 2008 and 2010, had reduced violent crime and made El Paso one of the “safest cities in our country.” He repeated the claims during his campaign rally in the city on Monday night.
But Trump’s claims were false. The city’s violent crime peaked in 1993 before declining sharply throughout the 1990s, in line with national trends, and long before the city’s fence was approved by Congress in 2006. From 2006 to 2011 – the period through the two years after it was built, violent crime actually increased 17 percent, according to the El Paso Times.
It was a point that officials underscored on Monday.
“Even if you give president the benefit of the doubt, the fence that was built in 2008 has made really no difference one way or the other,” said Esparza, who has served as district attorney since 1993.
“That statement was entirely untrue and unacceptable to the residents of our great city,” said Leon, the former chief of the El Paso Police Department who served in total for 30 years.
Yes, they were unhappy:
In El Paso, the harsh statements at the news conference were coupled with a sharply worded resolution signed by the town’s four commissioners and Samaniego that said Trump’s claims were “yet another lie that was quickly disputed by residents and members of our local law enforcement agencies.”
“Donald Trump has continuously made inaccurate claims about the United States’ southern border, including El Paso,” the resolution said, noting that data from Customs and Border Protection showed that “no crisis exists” on the border, despite Trump’s claims.
“The County of El Paso is disillusioned by President Trump’s lies regarding the border and our community, and though it is difficult to welcome him to El Paso while he continues to proliferate such untruths, we do welcome him to meet with local officials to become properly informed about our great and safe region.”
Of course that will never happen:
The statement said that Trump had never reached out to local officials or law enforcement agencies to inform himself about the city; instead, he repeated the claim about the danger of the city before the fence during a conference call with officials.
The false statement has drawn rebukes from Republicans as well, including the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, and Jon Barela, the chief executive of the regional development group Borderplex Alliance, who told The Washington Post last week that he feared it could have an effect on the city’s economy.
But once again it’s Trump and his anger at empirical evidence:
El Paso has been listed as one of the country’s safest cities in a number of published ratings for 20 years.
The city of 650,000, which has long been known as one of the country’s safest cities of that size, has been buzzing with the fallout from Trump’s remarks since the State of the Union. The violence in the Mexican city that lies across the border, Ciudad Juárez, has long cast a pall over the town’s reputation.
“Residents here are used to their city being mischaracterized as a war zone by outsiders, an enduring impression that emerged more than a decade ago when its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, was in the throes of cartel and gang violence,” the Texas Tribune wrote. ” … El Pasoans have been striving to set the record straight about their city’s crime rate and its relationship to a ramping up of immigration enforcement dating to the early 1990s.”
On Monday night, Trump highlighted El Paso’s proximity to Juárez and said that the wall was responsible for the difference in crime between the two cities. He called reporting about El Paso’s low crime rate and how it was not connected to the wall “fake news.”
“I don’t care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they’re full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference,” he said. “Walls work.”
Yeah, well, there’s a lot of that going around – Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen in public Monday. Conspiracy theorists still insist she’s dead.
Key lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The agreement came together during intense hours of closed-door negotiations at the Capitol, as lawmakers resurrected talks that had fallen apart over the weekend in a dispute over new Democratic demands to limit immigrant detention. Democrats ultimately dropped some of those demands, which had come under fire from Republicans, clearing the way for a deal.
Hurdles remained, and Trump’s ultimate backing was in doubt after quick opposition emerged from conservatives. But lawmakers on both sides said they were motivated to find agreement by the looming specter of another government shutdown Friday night, three weeks after the last one ended.
So this is the deal:
The deal includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fences along the border, compared with $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of walls. The deal omits a strict new cap Democrats had sought on immigrants detained within the United States – as opposed to at the border. At the same time, it limits overall levels of detention beds maintained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, although GOP aides said ICE would have enough money and flexibility to maintain its current detention levels and add more when needed.
This was standard bargaining, give up a bit to get most of what you want, and live to fight another day, but of course this is dead already:
Details of the compromise disclosed late Monday quickly came under fire from conservatives, raising the prospect of a backlash from the right that could ultimately render it unacceptable to Trump.
Fox News host Sean Hannity, a Trump confidant, immediately called the shutdown deal a “garbage compromise.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who talks regularly with Trump, said that it fails to address serious threats.
“This does not represent a fraction of what the president has promised the American people,” Meadows said in a text message.
And there is what Trump said in El Paso:
Trump defended the record-long 35-day government shutdown that ended late last month – even though polling suggests voters largely blamed him for the impasse.
That’s fake news too, and out in the West Texas town of El Paso there’s another gunfight in the streets:
Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I’m getting weary, unable to ride…
Someone just got shot in El Paso. Who was it?