El Paso, Tx., residents are used to their city being mischaracterized as a war zone, an impression that emerged more than a decade ago when its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, was in the throes of cartel and gang violence, the Texas Tribune reports. In his State of the Union speech, President Trump said El Paso was one of the nation’s most violent cities until a border fence was constructed in 2008. The dig at El Paso was part of a 14-minute passage about the U.S.-Mexico border by a commander in chief intent on convincing Congress to pay for his long-promised border wall even as political gridlock threatens to bring another government shutdown this week. Negotiations to reach a compromise on immigration appeared to break down over the weekend; negotiators said the impasse was over how many immigrants Immigration and Customs Enforcement can detain.
That raises the stakes for Trump’s planned rally Monday in El Paso. The city “has always been safe, long before a wall was constructed,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) said, charging that Trump will “attempt to use our community for a dog and pony show.” In 1993, an operation spearheaded by former El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Sylvestre Reyes, a Democrat who would later represent El Paso in Congress for 16 years, caused the most significant drop in illegal border crossings in the city’s history. “As Border Patrol apprehensions and petty crime rates dropped in El Paso, the operation was hailed as a critical success in the popular press,” said a 1997 report by the Congressional Research Service states. From 2005 to 2008 — before fencing was erected along the Rio Grande — El Paso’s violent crime rate fell below the national average. It began to rise again over the next four years, after the fencing went up.