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Gov. Abbott slammed for highlighting immigration status of shooting victims

Julian Aguilar

The Texas Newsroom

May 1, 2023

As the manhunt for the person accused of killing five people in Texas continues, Gov. Greg Abbott has been criticized for what people are calling his callous response to the shooting.

Law enforcement officials are still looking for Francisco Oropesa, 38, who San Jacinto County law enforcement officials said fatally shot five people Friday night, including a 9-year-old boy, after he was asked to stop shooting a gun in his yard.

In a statement announcing a $50,000 reward for information that leads to Oropesa’s arrest, Abbott’s office focused on the immigration status of the victims.

“Governor Greg Abbott today announced a $50,000 reward for a Texas Department of Public Safety top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants in a shooting Friday night in Cleveland, Texas,” the statement reads.

Though Abbott noted, “Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the five victims that were taken in this senseless act of violence,” critics blasted Abbott for prioritizing the victims’ immigration status.

“They were part of a family, @GregAbbott_TX — and one of the victims was a child,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar tweeted from her personal account. “What a disgusting lack of compassion and humanity.”

Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, also blasted Abbott’s statement, Business Insider reported.

“Five human beings lost their lives and Greg Abbott insists on labeling them ‘illegal immigrants,’” he tweeted.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who has relentlessly criticized Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety for the botched response to last year’s mass shooting in Uvalde, said Abbott’s words were a “new low.”

“A new low for @GregAbbott_TX, who continues to do nothing to keep #Texas safe from #GunViolence,” he tweeted. “Greg, how was an undocumented person able to obtain an AR-15 in the first place? I’ll tell you why. It’s because you and other Republicans have made safe gun laws nonexistent. I challenge you to show some actual political courage and #DOSOMETHING. #txlege"

The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, also weighed in Monday.

"What would Jesus say to the mass shooting victims?" Domingo Garcia, the group's national president, said in a statement. "Governor Abbott's words are unchristian. It is indefensible to any right-hearted Texan to use divisive language to smear innocent victims."

San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers, a Republican, told the Houston Chronicle he isn’t concerned about the victims' immigration status.

“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," Capers said.

It’s also unclear if all the victims were in the country without authorization. Responses to Abbott’s statement Sunday on Twitter included posts from users who said at least one of the victims was a legal resident.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Abbott’s office admitted it made a mistake and that it has since been informed at least one of the victims had legal status.

“Following the horrific shooting on Friday night, federal officials provided the state of Texas information on the criminal and the victims, including that they were in the country illegally,” spokesperson Renae Eze said in an email. “We've since learned that 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.”

The statement however didn’t address why the governor initially thought it necessary to mention the immigration status of the victims.

It’s not known yet how Oropesa obtained the weapon used in the attack, which authorities said was an AR-15-style rifle. CNN and FOX News reported that Oropesa was in the country illegally and had been deported several times, most recently in 2016.

The criticism directed toward Abbott isn’t the first time the governor has been rebuked over his immigration rhetoric.

In the days following the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, where a white supremacist killed 23 people, it was discovered that Abbott’s campaign implored Texans to take matters “into [their] own hands” to combat unauthorized immigration and "DEFEND" Texas.

Abbott eventually said that “mistakes were made” when his campaign sent out the mailer.