If you’ve watched the news at all over the past two months, you’ve heard the name Mollie Tibbetts. On July 18, the 20-year-old went for an evening jog in her small town of Brooklyn, Iowa. She didn’t come back.
After family and police spent a month searching, airing public television pleas and hoping for the best, there was a breakthrough in the case on August 21. Mollie Tibbett’s body had been found, and Cristhian Bahena Rivera had been arrested and charged with murder.
But forget the fact that a young woman died. Let’s talk about immigration policy instead.
Politicians have become fixated on Rivera’s status as a Mexican undocumented immigrant. They’re using Tibbett’s death as an opportunity to point fingers at old Democratic immigration policy and demonize illegal immigrants.
Unsurprisingly, President Trump had something to say on the matter: “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico,” he said on August 21—the day the body was discovered and before anything had been officially confirmed—at a West Virginia rally. “And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman. Should have never happened. Illegally, in our country.”
Right now, Mollie Tibbetts’ death shouldn’t be a point of propaganda. This is a time of mourning for her family and a time to seek justice against her killer.
Maybe to some this seems like a wonderful opportunity to validate the inhumanity of the ICE detention centers and the zero tolerance policy. If illegal immigrants are all felons, is it really so bad? If anything, shouldn’t we be harsher so they can’t commit these crimes in our country?
There is a reasonable argument that “better” immigration laws would have detained and deported Rivera before he was able to commit the crime.
But Rivera didn’t have a criminal record that we know of. He was in good standing at his workplace, and he got along with his coworkers. There was no obvious reason why he should have been detained up until this point, other than being undocumented.
Using Rivera as an example for why we need stricter illegal immigration policy implies we need to detain and deport everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a criminal record. This includes women, children and the thousands of illegal laborers that business owners rely on for keeping labor cheap. One such laborer was Rivera. Prior to his arrest, he was employed with minimal background checks on a farm owned by a prominent Republican—one who advocated for harsher immigration policy. But that’s an issue for a different article.
And regardless, the idea that all illegal immigrants must be deported because they’re criminals at heart simply is not true.
The national violent crime rate has been steadily falling for years now. Meanwhile, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border has been increasing.
A study in Texas, the state with the second largest immigrant population, showed that native-born U.S. citizens are more likely to commit and be convicted of violent crimes than undocumented immigrants. In fact, the conviction rate for illegal immigrants is about 50 percent lower than that of native residents. The idea that immigrants bring crime with them is a myth.
Rivera is yet another instance of us generalizing, as we so love to do here in the United States. Every member of a minority group is automatically a representative for that whole group.
Let’s be honest: if Tibbett’s killer had been a white man, would we have started making generalizations about how white men are violent and prone to murder? White men do statistically have higher rates of violent crime.
But no, we don’t make those assumptions. So why do we make the same generalizations in this instance? We need to get back to the real matter at hand: Mollie Tibbetts was murdered. Her killer was one man, not the whole undocumented immigrant population of the United States.
Prosecute him, not them.
Sarah Taekman is a third-year student majoring in origins sciences.