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Latinos Targeted In El Paso


In El Paso yesterday, dozens of residents and activists marched in defiance and in grief.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We shall overcome some day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The demonstrators called for gun restrictions and an end to racism. For members of the Latino community, this has been a brutal week. Just as the families of the victims of the El Paso attack were mourning those killed after what was the deadliest attack targeting Latinos in modern American history, a massive immigration raid on undocumented workers took place in Mississippi. We saw images of crying Latino children stranded at school after their parents had been detained.


MAGDALENA GOMEZ GREGORIO: Governments, please play your heart. Let my parent be free with everybody else. Please, I need my dad with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Local station WJTV recorded that interview with 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, who was separated from her father. Thomas Saenz joins me now. He is president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Welcome.

THOMAS SAENZ: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Over the past eight days, the Latino community, as you know, was targeted in a shooting by a man who said he was deliberately trying to kill, quote, "Mexicans." And then there was this immigration raid. How does the community, from your perspective, understand these two events?

SAENZ: Well, I think it's hard not to see the connection between the two events. The murderer in El Paso was motivated or inspired or emboldened by, I think, what we've seen under this administration. And that includes an almost daily drumbeat of demonizing immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, and then taking actions like we saw in Mississippi - an unprecedented number of detentions clearly orchestrated over a significant period of time and certainly something that could've been put off given what occurred in El Paso.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Immigration enforcement actions have taken place under every single American administration. As was said after this raid, this is a country, they said, of laws and also a country of immigrants. Help us understand how this moment is different in your view.

SAENZ: Well, the raids come in the context of an administration that began its first week with several executive orders targeting the immigrant community. But we've seen since then, from the White House itself and from the Department of Homeland Security, an almost ongoing attempt to do two things - to create fear in the minds of all immigrants, regardless of status, about their future in this country and then to convince folks on the right in politics that this administration was doing something about a serious problem of criminal immigrants, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support any of what has been said throughout this administration about the criminal tendencies of undocumented immigrants. Everything tells us the exact opposite.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is your organization doing? What are you doing? How do you approach this moment when so many in the Latino community need help?

SAENZ: This past week has caused us to start to do some thinking, for example, about whether gun control should be a more central part of MALDEF's agenda. We've always been supportive of appropriate measures to ensure gun safety. But maybe that needs to become more central to what we do. And by the same token, maybe MALDEF should focus more on hate crime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thomas Saenz is president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Thank you very much.

SAENZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.