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The last time President Donald Trump went to El Paso, Texas, he left the city with an unpaid, $470,000 bill. And some local officials aren’t happy about the prospect of another visit in the wake of Saturday’s mass shooting.
“I call our governor, I call on our senators to send a message to our president and ask him not to set foot in El Paso,” David Stout, a Democratic commissioner in the border city, told VICE News. “It would just put salt on this wound.” He represents Precinct 2, where Trump spoke in February — and where the massacre took place.
Trump still hasn’t ponied up for the costs associated with his last campaign rally in El Paso, but he’s reportedly considering another trip to console the community where a gunman shot and killed 22 people at a Walmart after posting a racist screed online, filled with anti-immigrant and white nationalist language. But it’s not just the bill the president ran up. Many lawmakers in the community who spoke to VICE News see Trump’s rhetoric — like framing immigration as “an invasion” at the U.S. southern border — reflected in the motivations of the shooter. And the city, already strained after the tragedy, can’t spare much more.
“Our police department, our fire department, our health department, they’ve been dealing with the reunification of families, and also helping the families who have just lost a family member. They’re already strained,” said City Rep. Alexsandra Annello, who represents District 2. “To ask our police and our fire department’s to stop what they’re doing now to assist his visit, it seems selfish to ask that of our community and the people who have lost family members.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued VIP travel advisories for El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, where another gunman killed nine and wounded 27 others, less than a day after the shooting in El Paso. Trump is expected to travel to both cities this week, although the details are still slim.
El Paso’s city council is officially nonpartisan, although the local government is dominated by Democrats. They said El Paso has already dealt with increased costs associated with Trump and his immigration policies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropping unaccompanied immigrants at bus stops in El Paso, without resources or support. The city has had to pick up the slack, which has put pressure on local shelters in the city.
“The president has the right to do whatever he wants to do, but this community has a high immigrant population. We look at the border as an opportunity and a blessing,” said City Rep. Peter Svarzbein, who represents District 1. “A visit from Trump would be a lot to take in.”
El Paso is just across the border from Juarez, and Trump has demonized both places. He’s falsely cited the building of a wall directly lowering the crime rate. But locals see the area differently. The two cities benefit one another, they said, both economically and culturally.
“A lot of people come from Juarez to El Paso to shop. And there's a reason why that Walmart was packed on a Saturday morning,” said City Rep. Peter Svarzbein for District 1. After Customs and Border Protection’s crackdown on El Paso’s port of entry, massive delays started forcing people to come across on the weekends, when they had more time.
“What used to be an hour wait is now three- or three-and-a-half-hour wait,” Svarzbein added.
Several local lawmakers also told VICE News that they blame Trump directly for the uptick in white nationalist violence that’s taken place over the course of his presidency. The president downplayed white supremacist violence, insisting that “both sides” are to blame.
“I do believe that the president and his administration has contributed the hate, has contributed to the vitriol, has contributed to the negativity that we have been experiencing. And now we have lost 22 people,” Stout said. “And why? Because we have leaders that are not only unwilling to denounce hate, they're instigating it.”
El Paso’s Republican mayor, however, had a different take: “This is the office of the Mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the President of the United States, which I consider my formal duty,” Mayor Dee Margo said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Margo also said that he's been receiving calls and emails complaining about his upcoming meeting with Trump, which will be to discuss federal funding for El Paso. Asked if he understood why people were upset about upcoming Trump’s visit, Margo laughed and said, “Of course.”
But not everyone dislikes the idea of Trump coming to town.
“I think the president coming is outstanding,” said Adolpho Telles, the chairman of the Republican Party in El Paso County, Texas. “I think it would let the city of El Paso know that what happened here is not acceptable.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to VICE News’s request for comment about the unpaid bill.
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks about the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)