Immigrants and politicizing grief

8/30/2018, 6 a.m.
It’s not hard to imagine Mollie Tibbetts and Kate Steinle together in heaven, observing their lesser human brethren exploiting their ...
Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez

It’s not hard to imagine Mollie Tibbetts and Kate Steinle together in heaven, observing their lesser human brethren exploiting their deaths for political gain.

Guess the politicos and blowhards just can’t help themselves.

The November midterms are around the corner.

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.

Ms. Steinle died in July 2015, shot by a man who had been deported five times. 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 Ms. Steinle.

Ms. Tibbetts’ body was found last week in an Iowa field. The 20-year-old had been missing for a month after going out for a run. Police arrested a Mexican man apparently illegally in the country. The latter fact sealed the storyline.

President 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.”

That’s code, and it’s not particularly subtle. What President 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 Ms. Tibbetts’ murder.

It’s not hard to detect a certain gratification in President 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.

A similar macabre glee was detectable in comments made by the Republican honcho Newt Gingrich. “If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble,” Mr. Gingrich commented to a journalist in an email last week.

That’s the degraded moment we live in.

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, Ms. Steinle and Ms. 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. This is well documented.

Do some undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes? Yes. Does our unwillingness to “fix” immigration — that is, 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, so let’s fix it.

Ms. Tibbetts may soon be what Ms. Steinle once was — a martyr in a campaign of vilification that her family never wanted any part of.

Ms. 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.

The writer is a syndicated columnist and the daughter of an immigrant.