Democratic candidates blasted President Donald Trump and his rhetoric toward Latinos Monday at a gathering of UnidosUS, the largest Latino civil rights organization, meeting the week after two massacres left 31 dead in two different cities.
The massacre in El Paso — which is being called a domestic terrorist attack — occurred about an hour after the suspected gunman is believed to have posted a screed online that spoke of Hispanic invasion and racial mixing. He went on to shoot shoppers at a Walmart. The number of dead rose to 22 Monday after a hospitalized victim died.
The 31 deaths and the ongoing struggles for survival of several wounded pushed aside what would have been an effort by the candidates to woo support as they compete in a crowded field.
“The attack two days ago was an attack of a Latino community, it was an attack on immigrants, it was an attack on Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans. And that was not an accident. That is in part due to the climate this president has set," said Julián Castro, who is Mexican American and is the only Latino candidate in the race. Castro was not planning to attend to spend time with family, but adjusted his plans after the shooting.
Five candidates vying to be the Democratic presidential nominee spoke at the forum held by UnidosUS, formerly known as National Council of La Raza, which is holding its national conference in San Diego.
Along with condemning Trump, the Democratic candidates called on Congress to advance gun control legislation.
“We don’t need thoughts and prayers out of Washington. What we need is strength and some resolve that we haven’t seen yet,” said former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke first. Biden spent his introduction addressing the attacks. Like the other candidates, he amended what he had planned to say.
“The escalating acts are not madness, they are driven by hate. They are hatred that we have to confront and rip it out by its roots,” Biden said.
Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., linked the attacks to Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.
“We have a president that works overtime trying to divide the American people based on the color of our skin, or where we were born, or the language that we speak. Together we are going to undo the damage that Trump has caused and bring our nation together again,” he said.
Sanders and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up gun control legislation.
“The people in Washington D.C. have to show the courage and power of those people in that store and our first responders and the immigrants in our communities,” Klobuchar said.
When she was elected to the Senate, she was struck by the power wielded by the National Rifle Association and other groups that have worked to stop gun regulation legislation, Klobuchar said.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told the largely Latino audience, “the work you do every day gives voice and empowers so many people who especially in these last couple of years have been the subject of targets of hate, misinformation, and coming from the voices of very powerful people including the president of the Unites States.”
El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on the other side are seen as a shared community by many locals. It’s common to hear Spanish spoken everywhere.
The attack came as the nation’s attention has been focused on the southern border where thousands of migrants have illegally crossed into the U.S. in recent months. Many have linked the suspect’s manifesto with to Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants.
Federal authorities are treating the shooting in El Paso as a case of domestic terrorism. The Justice Department is “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime.
President Trump condemned racism and white supremacy on Monday morning, though he did not address or mention El Paso's Latinos, who comprise over eight-in-ten residents.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy – these sinister ideologies must be defeated,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House.