EL PASO – New Mexicans joined the crowds who turned out for President Donald Trump’s campaign rally and a protest “march for truth.”
“I think the president is going to raise significant awareness that he intends to keep his promise to build that wall,” said Gavin Clarkson a high-profile Republican from Las Cruces. Clarkson, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development in the Trump administration, was among the group invited to greet the president when his plane touched down in El Paso.
As people wearing red MAGA hats crowded the El Paso County Coliseum to hear Trump at his first campaign rally of the year, thousands of protesters gathered for the “march for truth” nearby.
Greg White waved a large New Mexico flag and said his message for the president was “quit lying” He said he carpooled from Las Cruces to El Paso with a group of at least 50 people who are against building a wall.
“We think it’s a waste of money. There’s a need for other solutions like better immigration laws, electronic monitoring or border agents, any number of solutions but certainly not a wall,” White said.
Deb Sigman of Las Cruces carried a sign that read “No wall. No lies.” She said she was with Indivisible Las Cruces, a progressive group that promotes voter education and participation.
“He’s got to quit trying to instill fear,” said Sigman, referring to Trump’s false claim that El Paso was one of the most dangerous cities in the country before a border wall was built about 10 years ago. Both FBI and local law enforcement statistic show El Paso has consistently been among the safest cities in the U.S. even before the wall went up.
“That’s not the truth but at the same time the message still has to be we need a wall,” said El Paso resident Adrian Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 46, said he is “not a huge Trump supporter” but agreed to accompany his sister to the rally.
“We are a Democratic county in a Republican state; it’s definitely good to see a great turnout,” said his sister Angelica Widman, 40. The coliseum where the president spoke has a maximum capacity for 6,000 people and was filled.
Trump opened his rally saying, “Today we started building a great big beautiful wall right on the banks of the Rio Grande,” referring to planned construction in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
“Thanks to a powerful border wall in El Paso, Texas, it’s one of America’s safest cities,” Trump told the cheering crowd later during his speech.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, disputed the president’s claim the city was dangerous before the wall.
“I don’t care if a mayor is a Republican or Democrat, they’re full of crap,” Trump said.
Ron Davis was eager to hear the president repeat his promise to build a wall.
“Keep going. Don’t give up,” he said.
His wife, Linda Davis, said she wanted a wall to curb illegal immigration. “I like to look at individually who are coming and not have a mob.”
The couple, in their mid-70s, got tired waiting in line to see the president, gave up and went home to watch the Trump campaign rally on television.
Author and poet Benjamin Alire Saenz, a native of Las Cruces, said the president’s visit was an opportunity for border residents to speak out. He planned to attend the “march for truth.”
“The time is long past when we let other people’s voices define who we are – especially when those voices are not interested in listening to us,” Saenz said.
“We refuse to be used for anybody’s agenda – especially when that agenda is contrary to our values, our sense of compassion, and our very humanity.”
As Trump rallied his supporters, thousands of protesters, led by former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, ended their march at a park nearby.
“We stand for America and we stand against walls,” O’Rourke told the cheering crowd.
But he did not reveal whether he would join the growing number of Democrats running for president.
O’Rourke said El Paso is “safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Secure, because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way we make our communities and our country safe.”