Survivor and Witness to El Paso Walmart Mass Shooting Deported
August 3, 2019 is a day that changed the lives of many El Pasoans and fronterizos in our community. It was the day a person from outside of our community drove hundreds of miles with the specific intention of killing our friends and neighbors. Today, we still mourn 23 people who died as a result of his hatred. We also thank God for those who survived, and pray that He is with them as they live with the trauma of what they witnessed that day. One of those witnesses and survivors is a woman named Rosa.
Rosa was born in Ciudad Juarez and moved to El Paso when she was 14 years old. She made friends in El Paso, graduated from high school, and worked in El Paso. It was her dream to go to college, but accepted that it was not a possibility for her because she was undocumented.
On August 3, a trip to the grocery story changed Rosa’s life forever.
“My sister was driving and when we saw what was happening she went into shock. Her children were shouting, ‘Mom, let’s go! Mom, let’s go!’ My sister finally reacted and we left. We didn’t stay because we were scared to stay and be killed,” recalled Rosa.
Rosa and her family were able to get away uninjured. However, the trauma is still something she lives with every day. Following the shooting, Rosa watched news coverage and heard that police were looking for witnesses to come forward.
“When you are illegal, you don’t want to talk. You do not want to be seen, but something was telling me, you need to go and tell what you saw,” said Rosa.
Rosa is represented by Anna Hey, Supervisor of the Crime Victims Unit at Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services. Ms. Hey accompanied Rosa to speak with the El Paso Police Department, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigators about what she witnessed.
As a survivor of the Walmart shooting, Rosa is eligible for a U visa. The application requires a certification to prove the applicant has been helpful with an investigation. The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office provided the certification in September 2020, more than a year after the shooting. Rosa was in the process of collecting the additional documents needed for the application, but the process was delayed when many government offices closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the evening of January 27, 2021 Rosa was driving home from work when she was pulled over for a broken brake light. The officer advised Rosa she had unpaid traffic citations from 2015. Rosa explained that she had agreed to a payment plan to those citations in the past, believed they had been resolved. Rosa also had an existing deportation order from 2019. Rosa was arrested and taken to the El Paso County Detention Center.
Only two days later, Rosa was released from jail, and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Rosa explained that she was a survivor of the Walmart shooting and was cooperating as a witness. ICE agents decided to deport her anyway.
“Rosa is a survivor of one of the most horrific events to ever take place in El Paso. The decision to deport her amounts to a re-victimization of this young lady, who only came forward to help build the case against the shooter in the racist attack,” said Hey.
Rosa remains in Juarez. Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services is advocating for Rosa’s return to El Paso. Despite her experience, Rosa remains prepared to testify against the person who attacked our community.
“I want to help even though everything happened. I want to help with what I saw. I want to help my community because it is my community, too,” she said.