On the 18th of July, Mollie Tibbetts never returned home.
Joined by swarming television cameras, local law enforcement, and the FBI, the Tibbetts family scoured the small town of Brooklyn, Iowa in search of the beloved 20-year-old college sophomore turned gone girl. The investigation, which spanned 34 days of organized hunting parties and combing through interviews and search tips, culminated in her lifeless body being discovered in the rural area Poweshiek County, with multiple stab wounds.
It took over a month to find Tibbetts buried beneath the ground. In less than a day, the murder was being used for a political agenda on Capitol Hill.
“Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman, is now permanently separated from her family,” tweeted President Donald Trump in a public address video released last week, in a shameless reference to his border policy which quite literally separated illegal immigrant families upon entry. “A person came in from Mexico illegally and killed her,” he continued. “We need the wall. We need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed. We need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it.”
The president turned the nation’s eyes on Mr. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the 24-year-old farmworker and Mexican immigrant, who was apprehended and charged with first-degree murder following Tibbetts’ death, according to a report from The Washington Post. Investigators were led to the scene after Rivera claimed he found the body. Following hundreds of interviews, police found security surveillance near an area where Tibbetts frequently jogged and were able to place a nearby Chevrolet Malibu as belonging to Rivera. His alibi for the night of the murder reportedly didn’t check out when cross-referenced with all available evidence.
Allan Richards, the defense lawyer for Rivera, is trying to argue that his client is living in the United States legally. This narrative was also debunked by authorities who found he obtained his farmland position through presenting a stolen ID. This means he was able to bypass both the federal E-Verify check, a process which determines the legal status of hirees, as well as restrictions enforced by the Social Security Administration.
The court will have to determine how these legal compromises occurred. Meanwhile, the question remains whether the president and the two major political parties have just compromised future jurors who’ll be assigned to this case. As though purposefully avoiding the important 2018 mid-term issues, President Trump and members of Congress are all using the murder case for political ends despite the victim’s family demanding privacy.
“Stop being a fucking snake and using my cousin’s death as political propaganda,” one tweeted to conservative activist Candace Owens. “Evil comes in EVERY color. [Stop] generalizing a whole population based on some bad individuals. Take her name out of your mouth.”
But Tibbetts isn’t the only name being dragged through the mud of the immigration debate.
Since 2016, Trump hasn’t been afraid to serve political red meat to his Republican base. When it wasn’t organized chants of “build the wall,” the audience at Trump’s campaign rallies would be graced with the stage presence of the “angel moms” — a movement organized by the families of those harmed by illegal immigrants — where they’d push for stronger borders and anti-immigration policy. This same movement helped the introduction of the “Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement” (VOICE), a government hotline designed to tackle what the name implies.
It’s effective, albeit immoral politics, striking at the core of Trump’s agenda that monsters will cross the border to harm American children. It just requires some memorable martyrs for the cause. These previously touted families, despite all their partisan right-wing politics, just couldn’t generate the media attention quite like Mollie Tibbetts. Although The Daily Dot notes her Twitter account was littered with left-wing posts, death hasn’t stopped these conservatives from ”owning the libs.”
Damned be the family’s wishes when there are elections to be won, right?
Just look at Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, who was quick to release statements saying she was “angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community.” She, alongside her colleagues, began reciting the GOP talking points and campaign ads appealing to women voters who, according to the polls, are growing anxious with the current political climate.
“Democrats do not want to have an election on these things,” Pat Caddell, one of the GOP’s leading pollsters, told The New York Times. “On immigration, the Democratic Party has been pulled so far left. And that’s the story of our politics this year: deserting the center.”
But is this the real story? Or could it be that Republicans are growing reactionary due to the growing “Abolish ICE” movement?
In 2003, the Bush administration constructed the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to “investigate criminal and terrorist activity” of illegal immigrants within U.S. borders. Democrats, who view the agency’s behavior as bordering between unethical to unconstitutional, have called for the government to revert to the Clinton era of letting Homeland Security handle such affairs.
It’s no call for open borders, lack of border security or law enforcement. It’s an arguably fiscally conservative move to cut an agency. Yet this hasn’t stopped the conservatives from straw-manning the debate. The New York Times cited several campaign ads and segments focusing on the case, one of which was released by the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), the conservative super PAC who accused Kansas City’s candidate Sharice Davids of being for “open borders, amnesty — a risk we can’t take.”
“She was killed by a person who is exactly what Trump has been warning about,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said on a tour across several Fox News programs. “The left has to bear the burden of being the party that is tolerating Americans being killed by people who are here illegally,” he added. Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican, followed suit saying “Mollie would be alive if our government had taken immigration enforcement seriously years ago.” And finally, it was Laura Ingraham, who introduced Trump at the 2016 GOP convention, who opened her show by stating the obvious: “Fox News is the only network fully covering the case.”
Trump framed thoughts such as Ingraham’s near perfectly. During this same time, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and other mainstream media outlets focused on the arrest of both former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and the revelations from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. “See, the mainstream media is at it again,” echoed Chris Buskirk, a conservative writer and radio host who supports President Trump. This gave his crowd the perfect opportunity to cry against the media for the appearance of bias when, in reality, the criminality of political operatives is slightly more important than the death of a random person whose family are demanding their space.
“It is unfortunate that lawmakers are politicizing this absolutely awful tragedy,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization, speaking to The Times. “One would wish that cooler heads would prevail and that we could have a rational, humane conversation about immigration policy.”