Why mourning the El Paso shootings will undermine Trump’s immigration rhetoric

Originally published by The Washington Post

President Trump visited El Paso on Wednesday to console victims of the mass shooting there, and he was greeted with protests about his immigration policies and tepid denunciations of white supremacy.

This is not a surprise. Few places along the shared international boundary between the United States and Mexico are as dynamic as El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The historic isolation from other cities and their intense proximity to each other have long created fellowship and friction between the cities’ residents. Now, the cities are mourning together the loss of life in the El Paso shooting, showing that death, walls and vindictive asylum policies cannot break the deep economic and cultural ties that bind these two international cities together.

The fates of these cities have been intertwined since the border split them in the 19th century, and families continue to cross daily for work, shopping and to be together. Few places are more reflective of the transnational links between the cities than the Cielo Vista Mall, where the Walmart at which the massacre took place is located.

When the mall opened in 1974, it was all but guaranteed that juarenses would visit and shop there regularly. And they did. The commercial center draws residents from West Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua and other nearby Mexican states. Tax-free weekends and back-to-school supply lists incentivize visitors and shopping trips. Increased wait-times at international crossings, paired with the region’s scorching summers, lead shoppers to cross the border early or stay in El Paso for a weekend.

The flourishing of commercial activity here is rooted in history. In 1851, only three years after the end of hostilities between Mexico and the United States, a pro-free trade movement in northern Mexico emerged, threatening to establish a separate, independent republic if the federal government didn’t loosen trade laws. Mexico City relented and encouraged greater trade across the border, fueling the region’s dynamic economic and strong transnational ties. Over the following decades and into the 20th century, questions over trade and tariffs loomed over the region, while merchants on both sides of the border vied for the pesos and dollars of residents.

For example, the Popular Dry Goods Co. in downtown El Paso targeted Mexican people on both sides of the border by running ads in El Paso’s El Continental and Juárez’s El Fronterizo newspapers. Founded in 1902 by Adolph Schwartz, a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant whose retail career had begun in downtown Juárez, Popular became a border retail institution, drawing shoppers from both cities. During a presidential visit by Miguel Alemán to Juárez after World War II, the Popular displayed a picture of Mexico’s first civilian president, a welcome sign and the flags of the two nations.

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