Among the most chilling details to emerge from the coverage of the deadly mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, were reports that some survivors and families were not seeking out medical assistance because they feared being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Heard rumors that some El Paso victims drove themselves home because they were scared of ICE,” Cynthia R. Lopez, an El Paso-based immigration attorny, tweeted on Saturday. “This is a concern,” Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Homeland Security Department, told CNN. “It’s clear that there’s people that are not unifying with their family and that there are people they’re worried are injured that did not go to hospitals likely because of their immigration status.”
At a time when the president announces massive raids over Twitter and ICE agents have publicly detained people in hospitals and courthouses, the fear of getting caught in ICE’s web can inform every choice an undocumented person makes in a day. During a series of raids earlier this summer, some undocumented families stayed home because they calculated that the risk of stepping outside was too high. Reports circulated that pregnant people were skipping doctor’s appointments, parents were keeping their children indoors, and otherwise interrupting their lives as a means of fragile protection. Immigrants are forced to live in hiding lead a compartmentalized existence in general; in the wake of the El Paso shooting, the reality of that compartmentalization feels that much more excruciating.
We live in a society where, because of decades of failed policy, some of our most vulnerable and victimized are scared to ask for help. The scope of this problem extends as far as your imagination will go: health problems, crucial wages lost, eroded trust in their communities.
None of this is new. Undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families and communities have been living under these conditions for years. The headlines, consistent through the years, reveal a pattern of harm: “Undocumented Immigrants Are Too Scared to Go to the Doctor;” “Sick and Afraid, Some Immigrants Forgo Medical Care;” “After ICE Raid, More Than 500 Kids Miss School.”
This retreating from public life is one of the first signs that immigrants feel threatened by the state. And this is precisely what these policies are designed to do—they are threats from the state. We no longer have any excuse for being surprised. The possibility that an immigration victim of a mass shooting would avoid seeking medical care or accessing basic social services out of fear of being detained feels very much like part of a new normal—a sense of risk calculation that factors into every life choice, big and small.
That’s because border cities like El Paso, to paraphrase Michelle Garcia writing in the Baffler last year, are the stage on which opposing ideals on safety and security and violence play out. This has been the case since the U.S.-Mexico border was first demarcated, but it is increasingly true now.
In that morality play, this system of victimization (and re-victimization, and so on) is not random, and neither was the shooting; somewhere between driving nine hours to El Paso and opening fire into the shopping center, the shooter reportedly posted a racist diatribe echoing the president’s talking points about the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Like all old problems, this one has an old solution; as Representative Veronica Escobar said shortly after the shooting, “We have the solutions. They are right in front of us. What we need is the will to act as a country.”