AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a shooting near Cleveland, Texas left five people dead on Friday night, some top state leaders are blaming the Biden administration’s border policies for allowing the suspected shooter to enter the United States.
“The suspect had been in the United States illegally and had been previously deported four times,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday. “He never should have been in the United States in the first place. As devastating and unimaginable as this story is, it’s not entirely unique.”
Sen. Cornyn compared Friday’s shooting with the murder of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was shot and killed by an undocumented man in San Francisco in 2015.
Francisco Oropeza is the 38-year-old Mexican national suspected of killing five Honduran people inside their home northeast of Houston. He is still on the run as of Monday evening as the FBI mounts a massive search effort.
Gov. Greg Abbott drew criticism Monday after referring to the five victims as “illegal immigrants.” Critics argued that framing fuels prejudice of immigrants, and the victims’ immigration statuses have not been confirmed.
“It’s heartless. It’s un-Christian, and it’s un-American,” Immigration Committee Chair with the League of United American Citizens Lydia Guzman said. “We can’t continue to dehumanize folks because of their legal status. This is nothing but political posturing.”
Gov. Abbott’s office offered another statement Monday afternoon, explaining unspecified federal officials had told him the criminal and victims were all in the country illegally.
“We’ve since learned at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally. We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal.”
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, who represents San Jacinto County, also argued the shooting is “a tragedy that points to the vital need for enhanced border security and strong enforcement of our immigration laws.”
Civil rights groups argued rhetoric linking immigrants with crime is dangerous.
“We see the impacts of this rhetoric with militias, in the militarization of hate groups, and acts of violence like the targeting of Latino people in Walmart when there was a mass shooting [in El Paso] a few years ago,” David Donatti with the American Civil Liberties Union said. “The governor is very deep in his own echo chamber, if you can look at a slain group of family members, who are the victims of tragic gun violence, and his reaction is to label their immigration status. I think that it reflects the way that he perceives human life in this way.”
The San Jacinto County sheriff said only that the victims’ immigration status is irrelevant to his task of bringing them justice.
“My heart is with this eight-year-old little boy,” Sheriff Greg Capers said. “I don’t care if he was here legally. I don’t care if he was here illegally. He was in my county. Five people died in my county. And that is where my heart is — in my county, protecting my people to the best of our ability.”