By Simon Romero
EL PASO — Ahead of President Trump’s scheduled rally in this West Texas city aimed at building support for his proposed wall on the border with Mexico, people from across the ideological spectrum in El Paso had a message for him on Sunday: Don’t speak for us.
“The president is just wrong about the wall and wrong about El Paso,” said Jon Barela, a lifelong Republican and chief executive of the Borderplex Alliance, an organization promoting economic development in a cross-border industrial hub with a combined population of more than 2.7 million, taking in the cities of El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces.
Mr. Barela disputed Mr. Trump’s widely discredited assertion that border fencing had cut violent crime in El Paso, pointing to F.B.I. data showing that the city has ranked for decades among the safest urban areas its size in the United States — long before American authorities started building some fencing along the border about a decade ago.
“As a fiscally conservative Republican, I just don’t understand how spending $25 billion on a wall with limited effectiveness is a good idea,” Mr. Barela said in an interview. “Mexico is an economic and strategic ally of the United States, and an antiquated effort to place a barrier between us just won’t work.”
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Dee Margo, the Republican mayor of El Paso, voiced similar criticism of Mr. Trump’s description of El Paso, in his State of the Union address, as “one of the nation’s most dangerous cities” before the barrier went up on the border. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat recently elected to Congress to represent El Paso, is asking Mr. Trump to apologize and meet with migrant families seeking asylum in the United States.
The tension surrounding Mr. Trump’s planned visit to El Paso on Monday is revealing political fissures. A Democratic bastion in a state where Republicans have long wielded dominance in statewide politics, El Paso is also home to Beto O’Rourke, the former local congressman who is a star of the Democratic Party and a potential challenger to Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
At the same time Mr. Trump is scheduled to speak before about 6,000 people at the El Paso County Coliseum, Mr. O’Rourke will speak at another rally a mile away. Mr. O’Rourke said in an essay on Medium that Mr. Trump “will promise a wall and will repeat his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose.”
El Paso, where Hispanics account for about 80 percent of the population, was already hostile ground for Mr. Trump. In the 2016 election, he took only about 26 percent of the vote in El Paso County.
Still, the president shouldn’t have a problem filling the venue. Some of his supporters in the city remain eager to hear what Mr. Trump has to say.
“I’d like to see a wall go up along the entire border,” said Joshua Ascencio, 21, a cavalry scout in the United States Army who has plans to become an agent with the Border Patrol when he leaves the military. Mr. Ascencio said he was looking forward to Mr. Trump’s rally.
“I’m a supporter of the president and I think it’s important to be there for him,” said Mr. Ascencio. “I want to hear him on border security.”
Still, for many others in this city of immigrants the mere idea of Mr. Trump coming to El Paso to promote his administration’s crackdown on immigration raises hackles.
“The president of the United States is, disgracefully, nothing more than a racist,” said Mayra Cabral, 37, an immigrant who grew up across the border in Ciudad Juárez and now cleans tables at a restaurant in El Paso, where she has lived for the last 19 years after marrying an American citizen.
Ms. Cabral laughed out loud when asked about Mr. Trump’s claims that Hispanic immigrants bring crime to the United States. She said that El Paso is normally so calm that it’s “boring here sometimes.” Ms. Cabral added that she and her family were not getting waylaid by talk of the president’s visit; on Saturday night, they hosted a quinceañera for her 15-year-old daughter attended by about 300 people.
“I was able to do this for my daughter because I work at a job that people born in the United States won’t do,” Ms. Cabral said. “Trump likes to call us criminals, but what about all the Americans in the country who commit violent crimes? Why doesn’t he talk about them for once?”
Mr. Trump appears to have homed in on El Paso after meeting with Republican officials from Texas in January in McAllen, a city affected by a large influx of migrant families traveling through the Rio Grande Valley. At that meeting, Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas told Mr. Trump that the construction of border fencing in El Paso caused crime to fall in the city.
But while El Paso has long been relatively safer than other American cities its size, the violent crime rate in the city actually climbed briefly just before and in the two years after authorities installed fencing on the border as part of an effort to improve border security during the administration of George W. Bush.
Mr. Paxton tried to back up his assertion that a border wall in El Paso had cut crime rates by referring to a “131-mile fence that was completed in 2010.” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan fact-checking website owned by the Poynter Institute, questioned Mr. Paxton’s claim, pointing out that while Texas does have 131 miles of fencing not all of it is even in El Paso.
The contested assertions of a senior state official comes at a time of ratcheting tension in Texas over the treatment of Latino voters by Republican state officials, who in January called into question the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 voters. County officials found that the list of voters, which was referred to by Mr. Paxton in a campaign fund-raising email with the headline “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” actually included scores of naturalized citizens.
The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit this month against Mr. Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State David Whitley of Texas, arguing that they conspired to purge Latinos from voter rolls following a surge in turnout by Latino voters in the midterm elections.
Governor Abbott and United States Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican who narrowly defeated Mr. O’Rourke to hold on to his seat in November, are among the Republican officials from around the state who are expected to attend the rally on Monday in support of Mr. Trump.
But elsewhere along the border, there has been rising opposition among state and local officials to the president’s security strategies.
New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced last week that she had ordered a partial withdrawal of National Guard troops from her state. “New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,” Ms. Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement.
In Nogales, Ariz., the City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution condemning the recent installation of new barbed wire along the existing border wall in that city, calling it an “indiscriminate use of lethal force” that is “typically only found in a war, battlefield or prison setting.”
Gaining public support for the idea of a wall at an event such as the rally in El Paso will be important for Mr. Trump, as talks for a bipartisan agreement on border security appeared to have stalled on Sunday amid lingering disagreement over how much should be spent on a border barrier. President Trump, who initially proposed spending $25 billion on a wall, now is looking for $5.7 billion. Democratic lawmakers have talked about a figure closer to $1.3 billion to $2 billion.
A second government shutdown could be in the works if no agreement is reached.
Bob Giles, a car dealer from Lafayette, La., who is building a new Volvo dealership in El Paso, said that he understood how Mr. Trump’s proposed wall could seem like a good idea from an “outside perspective.”
“But when you spend time in El Paso and talk to people, it’s clear they take offense that a wall made a difference in the city,” said Mr. Giles. While Mr. Trump often speaks of a crisis on the border, Mr. Giles said he hasn’t seen one.
“That’s not the word I would choose,” he said. His own hope is to sell cars not just to Americans, but also to business executives from Juárez who have homes in El Paso. “This is an incredibly vibrant market with lots of construction going on,” he said. “It makes a difference when you see it with your own eyes.”
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