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After mass shooting, fear remains for El Paso’s Latino majority

El Paso’s Latino community is continuing to live in fear after Saturday’s mass shooting that killed 22 people. William Brangham talks to Iliana Holguin, an immigration lawyer and chairwoman of El Paso County's Democratic Party, about why people are scared to go about their everyday activities and why she believes Trump’s rhetoric is partly to blame for her community's being targeted.

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  • William Brangham:

    And now, for the view from the second city the president visited today, we return to El Paso, where I'm joined by Iliana Holguin. She's the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in El Paso County and is also an immigration attorney.

    Ms. Holguin, thank you very much for being here.

    Before we get to the president's visit and all of the protests and the concern over that, I wonder if you could just talk to us a little bit about how the Latino community in El Paso is doing.

  • Iliana Holguin:

    Well, as you can imagine, everyone is still, I think, in a little bit of shock and disbelief.

    No one could ever believe that anything this horrific can happen in their community. El Paso has always been a very warm, welcoming, friendly community. And we have always prided ourselves on that.

    So to have someone drive 10, 11 hours specifically to carry out an act of hate has just been absolutely shocking and unbelievable to all of us.

    But one thing that we all know is that El Paso is extremely resilient, and we know that we're going to get through this together.

  • William Brangham:

    When I was there a couple of days ago, I heard a lot of what you are saying, a lot of fear and anguish and sadness.

    Several people mentioned to me that, all of a sudden, they think about their daily lives in a different way. They think about going to the store differently or dropping their kids at day care differently.

    Are you hearing the same thing from people?

  • Iliana Holguin:

    Yes, I am. People are very afraid.

    We know that one of the motivations of this person coming to our community was specifically because of his hatred of Latinos. And we're 85 percent Latino. So, we know that our community was targeted specifically because of who we are, because of our identity.

    And knowing that is certainly making people afraid that we might see something like this happen again, another white supremacist decides to come to our community to cause harm to us.

    So, yes, I have also been hearing that, that people are afraid to do things that normally no one would ever think to be afraid of, to go out in public in open spaces. And, certainly, that's not a way that any community should have to live.

  • William Brangham:

    I know that you wrote a letter to the president in advance of his visit, saying, please don't come.

    Can you explain why you didn't want him to visit?

  • Iliana Holguin:


    You know, El Pasoans right now, we're still trying to figure out how to heal. We're still grieving. We're going to be facing having 22 funerals here in the next few days.

    And many of us really hold the president responsible in a lot of ways for this increase in, you know, the demonization of immigrant communities. And a lot of the same rhetoric the president uses on a daily basis in his Twitter account, in his rallies, you heard some of the same phrases being used by this person in that essay that he posted just minutes before he opened fire here in El Paso.

    So, really, we feel that the president has to acknowledge that his language has played a role in what happened. His words have consequences. And here in El Paso, we learned that on Saturday, that his words have very, very severe consequences that can change a community.

    And so we didn't want him to come while we were in this process of grieving and healing, and until he acknowledges that he has to change the way he talks about immigrants and immigrant communities and people of color. He has to recognize that his language is what's doing us harm, and Saturday was just a manifestation of that.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, the president today was asked that specific question: Do you think your rhetoric is contributing to this? And he said: No, no, no, my words have not contributed this.

    And many of his supporters would argue no one but the shooter — nobody forced the gun into that man's hands. Nobody forced him to drive 600 miles down and commit this violence.

    But you really do believe that the president sets the table that causes this kind of thing to happen?

  • Iliana Holguin:


    And that's true. We're not saying that the president somehow is the one that told this person to do this horrific thing. But the president's language definitely contributes to just the divisiveness, the demonization.

    The way he talks about communities like ours, it — he stokes that hatred and that anger that we know that white supremacists already feel towards a community like ours.

    So he may not have directly played a role in putting the gun into the shooter's hands, but he certainly encourages people with white supremacist views. He certainly condones it.

    We saw the same thing happen with Charlottesville, where he tried to somehow, yes, condemn white supremacists on one hand, but, at the same time, say that not everyone's that bad.

    He seems to — can't just come out and denounce white supremacy. And that is what we need him to do, because if he sounds like he's condoning it, if the president of the United States sounds like he's condoning it, then, of course, we're going to see physical manifestations of that, like what happened here in El Paso.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Iliana Holguin from El Paso, thank you very much for being here.

  • Iliana Holguin:

    Thank you very much.

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