Beto O'Rourke rallies in Texas kick off in El Paso, blocks from US-Mexico border

Vic Kolenc

EL PASO, Texas – Beto O'Rourke stood on a platform Saturday morning in the multicultural heart of downtown El Paso's shopping district – only blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border – challenging President Donald Trump's immigration policies. 

"With Cuidad Juarez, we form the largest bi-national community in this hemisphere and, for 20 years running, we have been one of the safest cities in America," O'Rourke said, adding that the safety comes not in spite of immigrants and asylum seekers but because of them. 

"We have learned not to fear our differences but to respect and embrace them," O'Rourke said.

When O'Rourke announced that he would run for president last month, he promised that he would return to his hometown for a March 30 rally.

The rally was the first of three events for the former U.S. congressman in Texas on Saturday.

Officially launching his presidential bid on historic South El Paso Street, the multicultural shopping district linked to Mexico by an international bridge, is fitting for a candidate who has told the El Paso Times that his hometown, and the U.S.-Mexico border, will be key components of his campaign. One, he has said, aimed at providing a more nuanced view of the border than the picture painted by Trump of a dangerous place in need of a completed border wall to be safe.

More: 'We’ve never seen anything like this': As Trump threatens to close border, migrants overwhelm Texas cities

“A firsthand perspective and experience from the border is missing from the conversation,” O’Rourke told the El Paso Times, part of the USA TODAY Network, in an exclusive March 12 interview just prior to his presidential announcement.

He spoke with his wife, Amy Sanders O'Rourke, in their 114-year-old home in the historic Sunset Heights neighborhood in Central El Paso – only blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Many of the attendees on Saturday mentioned immigration as one of the key reasons they were supporting O'Rourke. A day before the El Paso rally, O'Rourke tweeted that he had visited the makeshift shelter under an international bridge where migrant families were being held by federal immigration officials.

"Kids, moms, and families trapped for days at a time in our name," he tweeted. "Will continue pushing for answers so we can put an end to this."

O'Rourke, 46, is the first El Paso politician to seek the nation's highest office and the only candidate in the race who lives on the U.S.-Mexico border.

O'Rourke's official launch of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination comes a little over two weeks after he announced he was running for U.S. president in a video with his wife, posted on social media.

Who is running? Here's a list of the presidential candidates, so far

Since then, O'Rourke made a 10-day campaign trip to eight states, raised more than $6 million in individual contributions in less than 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, and has risen to third place in a recent national poll in the crowded Democratic Party's race for the presidential nomination – behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to announce his expected candidacy, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

O'Rourke's political star rose when he narrowly lost to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last November, a race that demonstrated O'Rourke's fundraising magic by ringing up more than $80 million in campaign contributions without getting money from PACs (political action committees), corporations or special-interest groups – something he plans to continue in his presidential quest. 

Catch up Texas Senate race: Beto 2020: Key moments from the O'Rourke, Ted Cruz Senate race in Texas

O'Rourke, who traveled to all 254 counties in his run against Cruz, has already started touting his presidential road regime. 

"El Paso, it was your story that I told all across Texas in every single one of those 254 counties," O'Rourke said. 

He personally drove 2,366 miles and held 51 events in 35 counties in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, where he answered 357 questions from voters, in his first 10 days on the presidential campaign trail, his campaign recently reported.

"I'm going to continue to demonstrate that everyone in every state is important to the future of this country. And no one can be written off or taken for granted based on where they live or how they voted in the past, or whether they voted at all," O'Rourke told the El Paso Times in his pre-announcement interview.

“I just want to serve this country so badly to the highest of my ability, and I believe that is serving as president of the United States,” O'Rourke told the Times.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Beto O'Rourke rallies in Texas kick off in El Paso, blocks from US-Mexico border