A community should not be held responsible for an individual’s actions. However, after Cristhian Bahena Rivera – a Mexican national – was named as the suspect in the murder of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, Republicans seized the opportunity to politicize Tibbetts' death to advocate for stricter immigration laws.
Tibbetts' body was found on Aug. 21 after her initial disappearance on July 18. While speaking in Ohio on Aug. 24, President Donald Trump responded to the news of Tibbetts' death, stating, “Democrat immigration policies are destroying innocent lives and spilling innocent blood.”
One’s legal status does not predispose someone’s likelihood for violence or crime.
Even Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, echoed Trump’s sentiment on Twitter, writing, “we are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
Tibbetts' killer was Rivera. It was not immigrant or Hispanic populations. It was not a law that killed her.
Tightening immigration laws would not reduce the propensity for violence to occur because undocumented immigrants are no more a threat to public safety than American-born citizens.
An individual’s actions do not speak for an entire demographic, especially when research shows that undocumented immigrants actually commit less crime than native-born citizens. In a study by the Cato Institute examining criminal conviction rates in Texas for 2015, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than native-born Americans.
What “broken laws” are we meant to blame for the number of violent crimes committed by American citizens? Which negative stereotypes should we associate to the FBI’s estimated 80.1 percent of all men arrested for violent crimes in 2012?
By bolstering an anti-immigration agenda, Republicans are putting an entire population on trial for Tibbetts' murder, rather than the one person allegedly responsible.
While Rivera’s motives still remain unclear, it is safe to assume that his citizenship status or country of origin did not contribute to the reason for Tibbett’s death. This rhetoric is harmful fear-mongering meant to discriminate against Hispanic people.
Tibbetts' family even admonishes the notion that their loved one’s death had anything to do with immigration laws. During Tibbetts' funeral, father Robbie Tibbett’s stated in his eulogy, “The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans.” On Facebook, cousin Sandi Tibbett’s Murphy writes, “You do not have permission to callously use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man. No. We reclaim our Mollie.”
Tibbetts' death is an incredibly unfortunate tragedy. Rivera should be put to justice, but it would be an injustice to punish a community for his actions.