The murders of both these young women were quickly politicized. Their suspected murderers fit a popular — and false — narrative for conservative Republicans and hyperventilating talk radio and cable news hosts: Undocumented immigrants are violent predators stalking clean-cut U.S. citizens.
Steinle died in July 2015, shot by a man who had been deported five times before. On a San Francisco pier, he fired a gun that had been stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger. A bullet ricocheted and struck the 32-year-old Steinle.
Tibbetts’ body was found this week, covered by cornstalks in an Iowa field. The 20-year-old had been missing for a month after going out for a run. Police this week arrested a Mexican man apparently illegally in the country.
President Donald Trump led the charge. He goaded his followers at a rally and then posted a video on Twitter that said the University of Iowa student is “now permanently separated from her family.”
What Trump is saying is that his cruel policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents — and the lifelong trauma this will cause in the lives of these innocent kids — is retroactively justified by Tibbetts’ murder.
It’s not hard to detect a certain gratification in Trump’s words that this murder, and the pain and suffering of the victim’s loved ones, has allowed him to hold his head high on family separation.
Let’s examine the GOP argument in the best possible light. It boils down to this: If either of these immigrant men had not been able to be in the country undetected, Steinle and Tibbetts would be alive.
There’s no denying it. But does the presence of illegal immigrants put the public at more risk from violent crime? No. Undocumented immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to commit violent crimes.
Do some undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes? Yes. Does our unwillingness to enact laws that meet the labor needs of the nation encourage unlawful and corrupt behavior on the part of employers and employees alike? Seemingly, yes. Is that bad for the body politic? Undoubtedly.
Note: It was unclear for a time whether the man charged in Tibbetts’ murder, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, was in Iowa legally or not. He worked at a local dairy, Yarrabee Farms. The family-owned company is connected to Craig Lane, a prominent Republican in Iowa who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of agriculture.
Why didn’t the farm use an employment verification system intended to find undocumented workers?
The Steinle family was nuanced and on-point in their criticisms of immigration policy and supportive of measures that avoided targeting entire migrant communities. Kate Steinle’s father, who frantically tried to save his daughter’s life on the pier, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the family had never desired retaliation or vindictiveness.
They were the pinnacle of class and dignity.
The Tibbetts family has asked for privacy. If they want to come out later raging about illegal immigration, that is their choice.
But politicians and media personalities owe it to them and to the public not to weaponize shock and grief. Anything less is disrespectful, and certainly not worthy of a vote.
Writes for Tribune Content Agency.