HomeUSATexas Gov. Greg Abbott slammed for calling shooting victims 'illegal immigrants'

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott slammed for calling shooting victims ‘illegal immigrants’

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called the victims of a mass shooting in Texas over the weekend “illegal immigrants,” drawing searing backlash for “dehumanizing” them.

Abbott announced on his personal and state Twitter accounts a $50,000 reward for the person who used an AR-15 rifle to kill five neighbors execution-style, including a 9-year-old boy, in Cleveland, Texas, on Friday night. The suspect, Francisco Oropesa, was at large Monday afternoon.

Abbott, a Republican, said the reward was for a fugitive “who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants.”

The post drew immediate backlash on social media from critics and a “community note” that adds context from readers who said the original tweet is misleading. The note said that at least one of the victims was a legal resident of the U.S. and added their names.

The youngest victim was Daniel Enrique Laso, who officials originally said was 8, but NBC News confirmed was 9. The other four were identified by police as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.

“It’s below the dignity of the governor to impugn the victims of a mass shooting about their legal status,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “All of the victims are Latino and so is the suspected gunman. This is a tragedy that involves another serial killing and a weapon for war that was used in the killing. That’s the issue, not the legal status of the victims.”

Maritza Wong, a volunteer with Texas Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws, said: “The first statement out of Greg Abbott’s mouth is to turn this tragedy into a dog whistle. Meanwhile our governor refuses to make the most basic changes to Texas gun laws that would make our families safer and every day he does so he is abdicating public safety.”

Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said in an email that “the only thing that should matter to the Governor” is that this was “another mass shooting that killed innocent people” living in Texas.

“Shame on Governor Abbott for turning a horrific family and community tragedy into another in his relentless effort to dehumanize immigrants and demonize immigration,” she said. “Not only is it an obscene distraction that compounds one family’s grief, but of all people, Greg Abbott should understand the power of words and the responsibility of his public rhetoric.”

Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for the governor, blamed the federal government a statement Monday afternoon for providing the state incorrect information about the suspect and the victims.

“We’ve since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally,” Eze said. “We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal,” she said.

The office also said “any loss of life is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families who have lost a loved one.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to an email Monday morning inquiring about the immigration status of the victims.

ICE said a man by the name of Francisco Oropesa Perez-Torres, 38, a Mexican citizen, had been ordered removed from the U.S. on March 16, 2009, and then removed from the country by ICE in Houston on March 17, 2009.

ICE said he re-entered the U.S. and was apprehended and removed several more times in September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016.

The agency said Oropesa has also been convicted in Montgomery County, Texas, of driving while intoxicated in January 2012 and sentenced to serve time in jail.

Texas authorities said all of the victims were Honduran but did not release information about whether they are U.S. citizens or legal residents, have temporary protected status or visas, or are in the country illegally. The FBI and the state Department of Public Safety did not respond to requests for records or data to verify the governor’s description of the victims.

The Privacy Act requires that information of legal permanent residents be protected from unauthorized disclosure and allows for civil and criminal penalties for violations.

David Leopold, America’s Voice’s legal adviser, said it is speculation to say people are undocumented unless it is known that a judge has ordered them removed from the U.S. or they have volunteered to leave. Even if they are undocumented, they may have some form of permission to remain in the country, Leopold said.

The shooting is one of a string that have occurred under Abbott, including the school massacre in Uvalde on May 24, in which 19 elementary school children and two teachers were killed.

Parents in that shooting have been pleading with Texas legislators to send to a bill to the governor for his signature that would raise the age for purchasing certain assault-style rifles from 18 to 21, with some exceptions. Law enforcement officers who were at Uvalde have said that the weapon’s firepower was part of the reason there was a 77-minute delay in going into the school to stop the shooter.

Abbott has invested more than $4 billion and the Legislature is providing millions more on a border security project in which he has used state troopers, the National Guard, state prisons and state trespassing laws in a state-operated immigration enforcement program known as Operation Lone Star.

Texas has seen jumps in apprehensions of people crossing the border from Mexico, many of whom turn themselves in and ask for asylum. With the return of warm weather and the anticipated lifting of a pandemic-era law known as Title 42, which made expelling people easier, a jump in the current numbers is anticipated.

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