After a month of searching, police found the body of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student from Brooklyn, Iowa. Soon after the discovery of her body, it was reported that the police had a suspect in custody, a young, undocumented man named Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Rivera was charged with first-degree murder, but the case has turned into a hot political debate concerning border security, immigrants, and migration into the United States.
Once it was reported that the suspect was undocumented, Fox News plastered, “Tibbetts slaying becomes immigration lightning rod,” across the bottom of their screen, and the White House swiftly used Tibbetts story as a springboard to espouse their anti-immigrant rhetoric in a video posted on their official Twitter account.
This type of reaction from both the administration and its media cohort, Fox News, shouldn’t surprise anyone. The last time we saw a vitriolic response such as we are seeing now, it was about a young woman named Kate Steinle
On July 1st, 2015, a 32-year-old woman named Kathryn Steinle, while walking with her father and close friends in San Francisco, was shot and killed by an unauthorized immigrant Jose Inez Garcia Zarate. Zarate claimed the gun had fired accidentally while he was picking it up, ricocheting off the concrete deck of the pier and striking her in the back. Soon after, Zarate was taken to court, where he was acquitted of all murder and manslaughter charges, but convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The shooting sparked discussion around San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city, with then-Candidate Trump citing Steinle’s death, as grounds for mass deporting immigrants. It wasn’t long before conservatives, and Republican legislators sensationalized her death and used it to push for harsher immigration policies, and President Trump’s wall.
Their push for harsher immigration policies resulted in ‘Kate’s Law’ being introduced and passed on the House Floor and left to sit without a vote, in the Senate.
As can be seen from how quickly ‘Kate’s Law’ was marketed to the public, legislated, and brought to a vote, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the right to organize around hate. Where we saw conservatives, Republicans, and white supremacists come together to legislate and pass harsher immigration laws.
Tibbetts’ and Steinle’s stories reveal lives tragically cut too short and for no good reason. Mollie Tibbetts was murdered because an evil man wouldn’t leave her alone while she went on a jog. Kate Steinle was killed because of a freak shooting accident. However, their deaths are not a result of our immigration policies. The legal status of the perpetrators does not change the reality of what happened. As Billie Jo Calderwood, Tibbetts Aunt, says, “Evil comes in EVERY color."
‘Kate’s Law’ wouldn’t have saved Steinle from being struck in the back from a ricocheting bullet, nor would it have saved Tibbetts from being preyed upon. Their lives aren’t political props to be bargained and played with like chess pieces to advance an agenda, especially one that comes at the expense of a whole community. They deserve more than to be used as hyperbole for the White House and its ardent adherents.
Meanwhile, as Tibbetts family mourns the loss of their loved one, conservatives from across the political spectrum are already using her death to push for harsher immigrant policies and in some cases are attacking members of the family.
Newt Gingrich already has his sights set on the November mid-term elections stating, “If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble.” Given Gingrich’s legendary lack of empathy (just ask his ex-wives) this comment seems to be par for the course for him. Yet, other Republicans seem to be following his lead.
While right-wing commentators like, Candance Owens and Tomi Lahren were seen pushing for a crackdown on migration into the United States.
Candance Owens attacked one of Tibbett’s cousins on Twitter, implying she was more upset with the President and his supporters than with the man who murdered her cousin.
Fox News host Tomi Lahren minced no words on the airwaves stating, “We have to do something to fix this immigration problem because illegal immigration kills Americans. Enough is enough.”
As a result, the Tibbetts family, and unfortunately the rest of the country, find ourselves in a similar position as were Steinle’s family in 2015. Tibbetts story is being used by right-wing Republicans, commentators, and media outlets as a rallying cry for stringent immigration policies.
And, unfortunately, it is in moments like these that the President uses the story to rally his base and distract from his own crimes (See Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort convictions). It is a morally bankrupt reaction, being used, purposely, to direct racial resentment and anger towards a community of people.
To quote Tibbetts Aunt, “Please do not compound the atrocity of what happened to her by adding racism and hate to the equation. … Do not turn #molliesmovement into something ugly.”