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In Uvalde, Biden will walk into a mix of grief, anger, political attacks and broken hearts

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/29/2022 Rebecca Morin, Francesca Chambers, Michael Collins and Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
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UVALDE, Texas – Again, for the second time in just two weeks, President Joe Biden will be the nation’s comforter-in-chief.

But in Uvalde, Texas, where a teenage gunman slaughtered 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday, he will walk into a town not just in mourning but a conservative area where many have already been angry with him over a range of issues.

Comforting the families of shooting victims is always a balancing act; in Uvalde, everything from the tender age of most of the victims to the town’s own political leanings will make that job even harder.

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Joe Garza, 42, who owns a barbecue and sno-cone restaurant called Sno-Ink, said he hopes Biden's visit can offer some solace to the wounded community, where people never used to lock their doors or worry about walking around late at night.

"Yes, those children matter," Garza said. But, he said, "so does the border."

Garza will not be the only Uvalde resident with mixed feelings about the president and his visit.

In 2020, Uvalde County voted for Trump 57% to Biden's 42%. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Republican, last year called Biden's border policies a "clown show."

And some Uvalde residents in interviews with USA TODAY expressed frustration with the president’s trip, saying that there are other issues, such as immigration, that should have brought the president near the border before the shooting. Uvalde is roughly 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

A Border Patrol vehicle sits at a checkpoint outside Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. © Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY A Border Patrol vehicle sits at a checkpoint outside Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Jesse Flores, who runs the store The Water Tree, said he is friends with many Border Patrol agents, and they tell him about getting hurt chasing migrants and smugglers. He said Biden should visit the border to see for himself the reality rather than relying on reports from high-ranking officials in Washington.

"Biden needs to see what we’re talking about. He needs to witness an actual arrest of immigrants coming in, to see what the Border Patrol agents are dealing with," Flores said. “He needs to see the terrain the immigrants are risking to come here.“

But Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said officials welcome Biden’s visit to Uvalde.

“This community has been hit hard, and I think it’s noble that the president is going to be here to recognize the pain and suffering that this community is going through,” he said.

79 minutes of horror: Police failed to act as children died at Uvalde school

Biden said that his visit will be about healing.

“Jill and I will be traveling to Texas in the coming days to meet with the families and let them know we have a sense – just a sense of their pain, and hopefully bring some little comfort to the community in shock, in grief, and in trauma,” he said at an event Wednesday in the White House East Room. “As a nation, I think we all must be there for them. Everyone.”

Vice President Kamala Harris faced criticism last spring for not visiting the border after being tasked with addressing root causes of migration. Harris visited the border in El Paso last June after a surge of crossing by unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families.

Last week, Biden visited Buffalo, New York, where he grieved with family members of 10 people killed in a racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket. In March 2021, Biden visited Atlanta after shootings at three spas that killed eight people, including six Asian American women. 

Innocents lost: Uvalde attack leaves broken lives, fractured public trust in law enforcement

Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat whose district includes Uvalde County, said he believes the president will visit Uvalde for one main purpose: to make sure the community has the resources to help survivors, families and others.

The immigration debate will be around for a long while yet, he said. But now is not the time.

“We, like the rest of the world, we'll be dealing with immigration issues for as long as we live and we need to figure out how to solve those problems for sure,” Gutierrez said.

“Right now, Joe Biden is going to come down to comfort people in Uvalde.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In Uvalde, Biden will walk into a mix of grief, anger, political attacks and broken hearts

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