EL PASO — While lobbying during the State of the Union address on Tuesday night for his marquee campaign promise of building a wall along the southern US border, Donald Trump used the city of El Paso as an example of what he hopes a wall could accomplish. He said the city in western Texas, right on the border with Mexico, had been transformed from one of America’s most dangerous cities into one of its safest by the erection of a barrier at the border.
But his statements about the city were completely wrong and sparked outrage in the Texas town that proudly shares a stretch of arid land backed by mountains with the Mexican city of Juárez, on the other side of the Rio Grande and the border fence.
Trump falsely attributed El Paso’s low crime rates in the city to the border fence built in 2008. However, El Paso hit a record low in crime level in 2006, two years prior to the construction of the fence that separates it from Ciudad Juárez.
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime – one of the highest in the country, and [was] considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities,” Trump said during his address.
Angry local officials swiftly reacted. Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who was elected in November in Beto O’Rourke’s old district, which includes El Paso, tweeted:
Escobar and other community leaders pointed to a recent report by the El Paso Times newspaper, which compiled FBI crime statistics with local law enforcement data that would easily refute the president’s claims.
Crime in El Paso reached its peak in 1993, with more than 6,500 violent crimes recorded, according to the data. In the next 13 years, the crime rate decreased by 34%. From 2006 to 2014, the crime rate rose 17%.
“El Paso was never one of the most dangerous cities in the US,” said the Republican El Paso mayor, Dee Margo, on Twitter. “We’ve had a fence for 10 years and it has impacted illegal immigration and curbed criminal activity. It is NOT the sole deterrent. Law enforcement in our community continues to keep us safe.”
The El Paso sheriff, Richard Wiles, who in the summer prohibited his officers from providing any assistance to the temporary detention facility for minors in nearby Tornillo, also released a statement that rejected Trump’s claims about the city:
“It is sad to hear President Trump state falsehoods about El Paso, Texas, in an attempt to justify building a 2,000-mile wall. The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities and El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”
The local business community also spoke out on Wednesday. Jon Barela, CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, an organization focused on economic development efforts in the El Paso region and former aide to former New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, expressed great concern.
“The president’s false comments about El Paso and the border are detrimental to business development and job creation. El Paso was safe long before the wall was built,” he wrote on Twitter.
A leader of the Border Network for Human Rights, a local immigrants’ rights advocacy group, expressed anger.
“Trump lied to the nation about El Paso at the State of the Union. He openly distorted the facts and the reality of our border region to justify the unjustifiable: his absurd obsession of a border wall,” said the group’s executive director, Fernando Garcia.
He continued: “El Paso is safe due to its people, the good community relation with law enforcement, and the trust of all communities in our local institutions. El Pasoans should be offended by the way the president used our community to advance his racist and xenophobic agenda.”