O'Rourke Doomed Historic Immigrant Neighborhood

El Pasoans: 'He's always siding with millionaires'

Beto O'Rourke / Getty
June 11, 2019

Some El Paso residents are upset with former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke for a decade-old vote in favor of a redevelopment plan that laid the groundwork for a historic migrant neighborhood in the city to be leveled.

O'Rourke supported a redevelopment plan that called for an arena to be built in the "heavily immigrant" Duranguito neighborhood, the Texas Tribune reports. The plan, which O'Rourke backed in 2006, was supported by wealthy landowners and developers, some of whom gave him financial support. O'Rourke's father-in-law, Bill Sanders, a multi-millionaire real-estate mogul, also supported the project.

Although much of the plan was scaled back, more than three dozen residents of Duranguito were pressured to leave the neighborhood.

Antonia Morales, a Mexican immigrant and one of the last remaining residents in the neighborhood, had sharp words for O'Rourke.

"He says he speaks Spanish and is for the people and for Hispanics," Morales said. "But he needs to start treating everyone the same, since he's always siding with millionaires and leaving us, the poor, stuck with the bill."

Romelia Mendoza, Morales's neighbor, was similarly critical, saying she found it "ridiculous" for O'Rourke to say he supports immigrants given the situation in Duranguito.

"If he wants to be a good president, and if he wants to support the immigrants, then support the ones that are already here," Mendoza said.

According to the Tribune, Duranguito "boasts the archeological remains of the first settlement in what became El Paso" and "served as the historic landing place for countless Mexican immigrants."

O'Rourke's spokesman Chris Evans said O'Rourke opposes the construction of an arena in Duranguito.

"Beto has forcefully opposed the construction of an arena in Duranguito over many years," Evans said. "His position remains that there should not be an arena built there and he will continue voicing his firm opposition to it."

Pro-Duranguito activist and University of Texas professor Yolanda Leyva called Evans's remarks "disingenuous."

"It would be great if he told the city of El Paso directly, 'I don't think you should build the arena there,'" Leyva said. "It's important for O'Rourke in particular to speak out against the arena because it's the very plan which he introduced as city rep in 2006 that created the threat of demolition."

The Texas Supreme Court may ultimately decide whether to save the neighborhood.