While police continue to investigate the incident, immigrants’ rights groups noted that it comes amidst increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric and hard-line policy proposals.
Eight people were killed and several others injured Sunday when a man drove an SUV into a crowd of people who were waiting for a bus outside of a migrant center in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.
While police continue to investigate the motives of the driver, immigrants’ rights groups noted that the incident comes amidst increasingly dehumanizing rhetoric toward migrants and asylum-seekers as well as proposals for hard-line immigration policies on both the state and federal level.
“We grieve for the victims in Brownsville, Texas, who were run over outside a migrant shelter where people from around the world are seeking asylum and safety,” Oni Blair, the executive director ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “We understand the motive is still under investigation. This horrific event comes after weeks of escalating anti-immigrant policymaking by Texas politicians and while the Biden administration considers imposing a new asylum ban aimed at deterring, rather than welcoming, migrants seeking protection.”
Today’s deadly event in Brownsville comes after weeks of escalating anti-immigrant sentiment by Texas politicians and while the Biden administration considers imposing a new, illegal asylum ban.
Our full statement: pic.twitter.com/pVg7YLxgoU— ACLU of Texas (@ACLUTx) May 7, 2023
The killings took place at around 8:30 am CT Sunday as migrants who had spent the night in Brownsville’s Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center were waiting for the bus, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, toldThe Associated Press. Because the stop is not marked and has no bench, many sat on the curb as they waited.
At that moment, an SUV drove onto the curb.
“We were going to the airport and it happened unexpectedly because a woman in a car passed by and advised us to separate and moments later the killer was coming in the car gesturing and insulting us,” survivor Luis Herrera told Valley Central.
The car then flipped over and kept moving for another 200 feet or so, shelter director Victor Maldonado told AP after looking at the shelter’s video footage.
“This SUV, a Range Rover, just ran the light that was about 100 feet (30 meters) away and just went through the people who were sitting there in the bus stop,” Maldonado said.
The vehicle also crashed into some people who were walking on the sidewalk around 30 feet from the main group. Seven people were declared dead on the scene, while 10 victims were rushed to local hospitals for treatment, Brownsville Police Investigator Martin Sandoval told Valley Central. Another person had died by Sunday night.
“There is no doubt that our state’s leaders are painting a target on migrants’ backs.”
Bystanders stopped the driver from running away until police arrived, Maldonado told AP. Afterward, he was taken to the hospital for injuries sustained in the crash.
Maldonado told AP that most of the victims were men from Venezuela. Venezuelans made up 4,000 of the approximately 6,000 migrants taken into Border Patrol custody in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley Thursday.
Brownsville declared an emergency in the last several weeks because of a growing number of people crossing the border into the city, AP reported. While the shelter has a capacity of 250, Maldonado said that it had received up to 380 people a day for the past two months.
Despite Herrera’s report that the driver insulted the migrants before plowing into them, police said his motivations are not yet known, though he has been arrested for reckless driving and could face additional charges.
“Now, we don’t know the actual cause of the accident,” Sandoval told Valley Central. “Like I said, it could be three different things. One, he could be intoxication. Two, it could be just an accidental one or three, it could be intentional.”
However, while Maldonado said his shelter—the only one in Brownsville—received no threats before the killings, it did after the fact.
“I’ve had a couple of people come by the gate and tell the security guard that the reason this happened was because of us,” Maldonado told AP.
Local politicians and rights groups were also quick to point out that the driver’s actions did not take place in a vacuum.
Beyond President Joe Biden’s proposed asylum ban, the Texas House on Tuesday is set to debate H.B. 20, a bill that would empower the state administration to deputize any “law-abiding” citizen to serve in a “Border Protection Unit” to enforce the law against anyone suspected of being a migrant, Human Rights Watch explained. Members of this unit would be granted criminal and civil immunity.
“I hope that today serves as a wake-up call, and that state officials will begin investing in a humanitarian response that might have helped the people who were impacted by this morning’s tragedy,” Rochelle Garza, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project and a Brownsville resident, said in a statement.
Texas Democratic State Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who hails from Brownsville, also called out the state response.
“While the incident is still under investigation, there is no doubt that our state’s leaders are painting a target on migrants’ backs. Political actors—who just want to score points with the absolute worst fringes of society—are ginning people up and getting them to hate their fellow brothers and sisters, and turning human being against human being,” Hinojosa said in a statement reported by Valley Central.
The ACLU of Texas, meanwhile, emphasized the rights of witnesses to the incident to testify.
“President Biden, Texas Gov. [Greg] Abbott, and other elected officials continue to spread fear about immigration instead of treating the needs of people crossing the border as a humanitarian matter. We call on federal, state, and local governments to take immediate action to protect migrants and to lead with compassion. That includes ensuring witnesses of the alleged attack can come forward without fear of deportation or reprisals,” Blair said. “No matter where we live or how long we’ve been there, every person in Texas should feel safe going about our daily lives.”
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