Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol on May 18, 2020 in Austin.
(Photo: Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images)

'A New Low, Even for You': Outrage After Gov. Abbott Denigrates Texas Murder Victims

"There is no reason to refer to the five victims—including a child—as 'illegal immigrants.' For Greg Abbott and the GOP, the cruelty is the point."

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sparked widespread outrage Sunday by derogatorily—and incorrectly—referring to five people killed in a Liberty County mass shooting two days earlier as "illegal immigrants."

On Friday evening, a drunk man allegedly shot and killed five people, including an 8-year-old boy, in a Cleveland home after residents asked him to stop shooting his AR-15-style rifle into the air. The gunman then fled the scene of the massacre and has been on the run ever since.

Police identified those killed as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8. All were shot in the head or neck. According toKTRK, two of the slain women were found laying atop three children who were covered in blood but physically unharmed.

"This shooting has nothing to do with immigration status and much to do with your policies."

On Sunday, Abbott offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspect, identified as 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza. While the governor said that "our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the five victims that were taken in this senseless act of violence," he drew nationwide rebuke for referring to the murdered people as "illegal immigrants."

It is believed that all five victims—and Oropeza—are from Honduras. While four of the victims are believed to be undocumented, Velazquez Alvarado's widower said the woman was a permanent U.S. resident and shared a photo of her green card with immigrant rights activist Carlos Eduardo Espina. Abbott's mischaracterization of all five as "illegal immigrants" drew an "added context" disclaimer from Twitter.

"Five human beings lost their lives and Greg Abbott insists on labeling them 'illegal immigrants,'" tweeted former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Democratic strategist Sawyer Hackett, a former senior adviser to Castro, wrote on Twitter that "Greg Abbott is so morally bankrupt that he has to make the senseless murder of five people with an AR-15 about 'illegal immigration.'"

"Forty-eight hours after this massacre and this is the craven hackery he comes up with," Hackett added.

The advocacy group Voto Latino asserted that "there is no reason to refer to the five victims—including a child—as 'illegal immigrants.' For Greg Abbott and the GOP, the cruelty is the point."

Abbott, who is currently in his third term as governor, has been criticized for his tough-on-migrants policies, which include increased border militarization and—like his counterparts in Arizona and Florida—for busing migrants to cities and states with sanctuary policies.

Responding to Abbott's Sunday statement, attorney and political commentator Olayemi Olurin tweeted that "the dehumanization here is otherworldly."

"Even in their deaths he can't see undocumented immigrants as human beings," Olurin said of Abbott. "He couldn't think of anything to call a family who'd been murdered but illegal immigrants."

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said in a Twitter thread that "public figures like Abbott leverage their status by using social media to amplify language painting a specific narrative intended to alter the way you view and treat the people around you. The victims here were your neighbors. They were your friends. They were your colleagues."

"When we read things like that statement from Abbott and his social media team we are confronted with a choice," ILRC added. "Do we want to live in a world where people are... granted their dignity and humanity even in the face of unimaginable tragedy? Or do we want—this?"

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