EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The Tuesday night shooting of two migrants in a rural West Texas town is setting off an alarm among activists already afraid that frustration with rising immigration rates would lead to violence.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is confirming the arrest of two men who shot at a group of migrants who stopped on the side of a road to get water 4 miles south of Sierra Blanca, Texas. The men were driving in a truck along farm-to-market road 1111 in Hudspeth County, pulled over and shot at the migrants for reasons still not disclosed by authorities. One male migrant in the group was fatally shot and a female migrant was wounded.
Authorities were able to assist the wounded female and transport her to Del Sol Hospital in El Paso, where she is now recovering.
DPS and several assisting federal agencies on Thursday identified two suspects and took them into custody. The agency did not disclose the names of the detainees but said they were charged with manslaughter. National news reports identified the men as Mark and Mike Sheppard – the latter a warden at a local jail.
Sierra Blanca is known for an immigration checkpoint where all vehicles and persons heading away from the U.S.-Mexico border are subject to inspection.
“We don’t have many details but what we know if very concerning,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “There is a dangerous combination of factors in Texas that could lead to aggression, violence, shootings and maybe killings against migrants and refugees in Texas.”
Illegal immigration is at historical levels nationwide, with more migrants released into the country than being expelled. This is frustrating to some and has become a campaign banner for conservative politicians.
Garcia said the “anti-immigrant vitriol” is strongest in Texas, a state that allows people to openly carry guns and where Gov. Greg Abbott is justifying the deployment of hundreds of state police officers and National Guard members by linking illegal immigration to crime, he said.
“We are very concerned this might not be the only incident; this might be the beginning of a potentially dangerous time for migrants on the border,” Garcia said, adding he fears a rise in vigilante activity in the state.
Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Democratic Party in Texas, went even further.
“This killing was not vigilante justice. It was murder, and it was a hate crime,” he said on Thursday. “This killing was the direct result of Texas Republicans’ violent fearmongering of undocumented migrants. When you continuously use language like ‘invasion’ to describe what is going on at our border, the only logical conclusion is that you want migrants and asylum seekers to be treated like invaders.”
League of United Latin American Citizens National President Domingo Garcia agrees the verbal attacks on migrants must stop.
“LULAC is outraged by this execution-style gunning down of innocent people, like hunting for human beings to kill,” Garcia said in a statement late Thursday. “We can say no to fanning fear and stop those who stir hate speech. America is better than this act of violence.”
Mexican American Legislative Caucus Vice-Chair, State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, said the shootings just a few miles east of El Paso bring back bad memories.
“Racially charged murders happen when we promote language and policies that produce hate. People have died in our state just based on the color of their skin — in El Paso three years ago, and now in our neighboring Hudspeth County,” Gonzalez said. “This was murder and attempted murder of people trying to get clean water just because of the color of their skin. This traumatizes us all in Texas.”
On Aug. 3, 2019, a gunman who allegedly drove 10 hours from North Texas after posting and online manifesto decrying the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart.