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In El Paso's Reunification Centers, Sadness, Horror — And Fear Of ICE


As we mentioned, El Paso is a city where many people in the country live illegally. There's an organization here called the Hope Border Institute. It's an organization that, among other things, tries to help people who are in this position. Monsignor Arturo Banuelas is chairman of the institute here in El Paso, and we have him on the line with us. Good morning.

ARTURO BANUELAS: Good morning.

GREENE: Can you talk about - I mean, there have been reports that people in the country illegally are feeling a sense of fear right now, and it might be affecting some of the decisions they're making in the wake of this shooting. What are you hearing and seeing?

BANUELAS: Yes, people live in fear constantly because some of the families have children who are American citizens and the parents are not. And so daily they have to be very careful going to the grocery store, going to church, going to school with their kids because they have a tremendous fear that they're going to be stopped and deported immediately and then be separated with their families. This happens regularly here on the border.

GREENE: And how is that impacting people in this moment, as El Paso is trying to recover and you have people going to hospitals, you have people trying to find family members at reunification centers?

BANUELAS: I was at the reunification center and waiting - with the families, waiting to hear news of their loved ones. It was a nightmare for families. Things - a moment nobody should have to endure. It was a very somber, sad moment. There was, like, a silent crying among the people. And some of the families were not able to - did not show up to see if their loved ones were - because they were afraid that they would be deported because the place was surrounded by Border Patrol, as well as the police.

And this tremendous fear - some people risk it; some people were very afraid to come, to be deported. And the same thing with the hospitals. Some - I heard about a family who was injured and was afraid to go to the hospital because of the fear of being deported and separated from their families.

GREENE: Based on your experience, do you think that is a real risk? I mean, would authorities ever actually deport someone from a hospital who was injured or is visiting someone who was injured in an event like this?

BANUELAS: It has happened. It has happened. If you speak to people in the hospital, they will say we'll treat everybody. But it has happened, yes.

GREENE: What advice are you giving people who are afraid, who might be considering whether to go look for family in a reunification center or go to the hospital to visit people?

BANUELAS: To go, that we're there; there's a lot of people who are willing to help. At moments like this, I think there is more compassion and more understanding of people's pain. And, I mean, even people have families - the police, the ICE people, the Border Patrol. They have families. They understand these moments. And I think at moments - at crises like this - and then there was people, there were priests, there were chaplains there. We will be able to be of service to them. I would say, come; we'll help you.

GREENE: Could you reflect on the reports we're hearing about this manifesto that the suspected shooter here wrote that spoke of an Hispanic invasion of Texas - was incredibly hateful against Hispanics and immigrants? What do you think about when you hear about that?

BANUELAS: It was very clear from the manifesto that this man organized and targeted the - one of the busiest Walmarts in our city, where the majority of people who come there are from Mexico and are Hispanic. It was a targeted moment to kill people who are of Hispanic and immigrant descent. I think we need to be very careful about our anti-immigrant rhetoric, sometimes supported by our government leaders. The silence of Congress is shameful. Sometimes we hear it in several news channels. This anti-immigrant rhetoric has deadly consequences. Our loved ones die.

But we have a different manifesto here. It's about family, love and justice, and not - and those who have died tell us do not remain silent about what happened, about gun laws, about xenophobia, about racism and violence.

GREENE: Monsignor Arturo Banuelas is chairman of the Hope Border Institute here in El Paso, Texas. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

BANUELAS: OK. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY BERRE'S "ILES DE LA MADELEINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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