An employee of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency had a message for trick-or-treaters in the tiny Texas border town of Presidio this Halloween. A sign taped on the gate of a home located within a US government-owned housing complex was written in Spanish with letters drawn in red, white, and blue: "Only American families receive candy."
The sign has sparked outrage in Presidio, where around 94 percent of the 6,000 residents are Hispanic and many families have relatives across the border. CBP officers and their families reside inside the gated community where the sign was posted, and while unauthorized personnel are technically not allowed inside, housing complex management said the rules are bent during Halloween to allow trick-or-treaters from the general public.
The sign incident prompted Mayor John Ferguson to issue a statement reminding his constituents that Presidio has traditionally welcomed trick-or-treaters from Ojinaga, a sister city just across the border in Mexico.
"No one has ever told me I couldn't be a part of the celebration on these days in Mexico because I am a US citizen," Ferguson said. "By the same token, I want to encourage everyone in our community to continue to treat visitors with open hearts and open arms, as we would hope they would do the same for us in their homes."
Two photos of the sign were met with alarm from citizens of both Presidio and Ojinaga when the images circulated on Facebook on the Saturday of Halloween. By Monday afternoon, the sign had been taken down.
"It's really shameful," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights. "At the end of the day, it doesn't send any constructive message but it also sends a very hateful message. In this case, it is worse because they're discriminating against kids."
CBP spokesman Bill Brooks apologized for the incident in a statement issued on Monday, but refused to disclose the name of the employee who posted the sign.
"US Customs and Border Protection and the Big Bend Sector regret that an employee chose to post the sign in question at his residence during Halloween," Brooks said. "The sign does not reflect the opinion of this agency. We respect all people regardless of their culture, nationality or country of origin. We apologize for any harm this incident may have created in our relationship with the community."
Garcia said his organization is looking into filing a formal complaint against CBP, which is tasked with preventing people and goods from illegally entering the US.
"It's bad enough for a private citizen to be hateful and racist," Garcia said. "It's even worse when it's coming from a government agent."
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