The monthlong search for University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts ended in heartbreak today. Cristhian Bahena Rivera led investigators to the victim’s body in a cornfield. He reportedly confessed to the crime and faces first-degree murder charges.
Because Rivera is from Mexico and has been living in this country without authorization for several years, Iowa’s top Republican elected officials moved quickly to blame Tibbetts’ tragic death on immigration policy.
Governor Kim Reynolds released this statement shortly after a 4:00 news conference by law enforcement (emphasis added).
“Today, our state woke up to heart-wrenching news. As a mother, I can’t imagine the sorrow felt by the Tibbetts family. We are all suffering over the death of Mollie, knowing that it could have been our own daughter, sister or friend.
“I spoke with Mollie’s family and passed on the heartfelt condolences of a grieving state. I shared with them my hope that they can find comfort knowing that God does not leave us to suffer alone. Even in our darkest moments, He will comfort and heal our broken hearts.
“I want to recognize and thank our local, state and federal law enforcement community for their coordinated and tireless efforts to find Mollie.
“Over the past month, thousands of Iowans searched and prayed for Mollie’s safe return. Now, we are called to come together once again to lift up a grieving family. The search for Mollie is over, but the demand for justice has just begun.
“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. 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 bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
Ryan Foley noted in his report for the Associated Press, “A search of Iowa court records revealed no prior criminal history, and it’s unclear whether [Rivera] had ever been subject to prior deportation proceedings.”
Moreover, research has shown immigrants do not commit more violent crimes than do Americans born in this country. On the contrary: “Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so.” Crime rates have fallen even as immigrant populations have grown considerably over the last several decades.
In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country.
According to data from the study, a large majority of the areas have many more immigrants today than they did in 1980 and fewer violent crimes. The Marshall Project extended the study’s data up to 2016, showing that crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board.
Never mind the research. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley released a joint statement this evening echoing the governor’s rhetoric (emphasis added).
“We are deeply saddened that this bright, young woman’s life was cut short. Our heart goes out to the family and friends of Mollie Tibbetts. No family should ever have to endure such a tragedy, especially one that could have been prevented. We are thankful for the hard work of Governor Kim Reynolds and federal, state and local law enforcement as they continue to find answers for Mollie’s family and the American public and bring the killer to justice. As Governor Reynolds said, ‘our immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community.’ Too many Iowans have been lost at the hands of criminals who broke our immigration laws. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue,” – Sens. Grassley & Ernst.
Senator Ernst introduced, and Senator Grassley cosponsored legislation, Sarah’s Law, to honor another young Iowan woman, Sarah Root, who was killed in 2016 by an illegal immigrant. Sarah’s Law would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take custody of an individual who is in the country illegally and is charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. It would also amend the mandatory detention provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to require the federal government to take custody of anyone who entered the country illegally, violated the terms of their immigration status, or had their visa revoked and is thereafter charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.
At this writing, no evidence suggests “Sarah’s Law” would have resulted in Rivera being deported before last month. He does not appear to have any criminal record in Iowa.
No doubt Reynolds relishes the idea of campaigning on immigration policy. Contrast her comments and those of Grassley and Ernst with Democratic candidate for governor Fred Hubbell. His written statement expressed grief over the horrific crime and commended law enforcement without attempting to stigmatize immigrant communities:
“This is truly heartbreaking,” said Fred Hubbell. “For Mollie’s parents, her family and friends, any words today will be of little comfort. As a parent and grandparent your worst nightmare is losing your child. I know this must be an unimaginable loss. Please know our family and Iowans everywhere share your grief and are united in pursuit of justice. I want to commend our law enforcement officials who worked around the clock to investigate this crime. In this state, if you break the law, you will face the consequences.”
Unimaginable. I offer my own condolences to all of Mollie Tibbetts’ friends and loved ones. The University of Iowa encouraged community members who need support as they grieve her loss to contact University Counseling Services (319-335-7294), Student Care and Assistance (319-335-1162), or UI Employee Assistance Program (319-335-2085).
P.S.- The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa Attorney General’s office will prosecute Rivera. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted in state court. If federal authorities took over the case, Rivera could be subject to the death penalty.
UPDATE: Foley reported for AP,
Yarrabee Farms, a family-owned company that operates dairy farms in the rolling hills outside Brooklyn, said that Rivera had been an employee in good standing for four years and that it was shocked to learn he was implicated in the crime.
The company is owned by the family of Craig Lang, a prominent Republican who previously served as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau.
To no one’s surprise, President Donald Trump brought up this tragedy at a rally in West Virginia:
“You heard about today, with the illegal alien coming in from, very sadly, from Mexico,” he said. “And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman.” […]
“The laws are so bad,” Trump continued Tuesday. “The immigration laws are a such a disgrace.”
SECOND UPDATE: Christopher Peters, the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district, struck a different tone in his statement released on August 21.
For the past month, Iowans have prayed for the safe return of Mollie Tibbetts, while volunteers searched and law enforcement officers tracked down every lead. This morning, we learned that Mollie had been found, but not in the manner we had all hoped. This evening, we learned that she had been abducted and murdered by an illegal immigrant.
Some will try to politicize this tragedy, but I believe doing so cheapens the death of this young woman and distracts from the grief we all should feel in some measure with the Tibbetts family. As a father of three sons, I cannot imagine the loss her family and community are facing. Probably like many of you, I have scanned the roadsides as I was driving through Iowa over the past month, hoping I might find Mollie safe. At the same time, I thought about the safety of my wife and our three sons.
Yes, our immigration system is broken, and Congress has failed to fix it. We need to secure our borders, even while recognizing they can never be fully impenetrable. We must also reform our immigration system to encourage legal immigration, so that we can properly vet those coming into our country.
There is much we can and must do. For now, though, we should mourn the loss of Mollie. We should grieve with the Tibbetts family and the people of Brooklyn. We should look after our neighbors and strengthen our communities. Most of all, we should hold our loved ones a bit closer in our hearts tonight.
LATER UPDATE: In an August 22 court filing, Rivera’s attorney asserted that the government “knows Christhian has legal status” and that “Craig Lang has verified that Christhian is in this jurisdiction legally,” Jason Clayworth reported for the Des Moines Register. However, it’s possible that Rivera was using fraudulent documents to pass the screening.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich reminded us all what kind of person he is. Via Axios:
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich emailed Axios’ Mike Allen to make sure that we’d be covering this story, which Fox News led with on air and online Tuesday evening, ahead of the Cohen-Manafort news. His take: “If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble. If we can be blocked by Manafort-Cohen, etc., then GOP could lose [the House] badly.”
“We are living in two alternative political universes. In one, Manafort-Cohen is dispositive. In the other, illegal immigrants killing Mollie Tibbetts is dispositive.”
On the evening of August 22 I was a respondent for a lengthy poll on the third Congressional district race, conducted by RTB Research. Many of the questions presented Democratic challenger Cindy Axne in an unflattering light. After each, I was asked whether that information made me somewhat/much more likely or less likely to vote for her. Since the survey did not test positive messages about Republican incumbent David Young, I would guess his campaign didn’t commission the poll. More likely, some GOP-aligned group planning to run attack ads designed the survey. The last in a series of negative statements about Axne went like this (I recorded the call in order to get the exact wording):
Recently, a University of Iowa student named Mollie Tibbetts was murdered by an immigrant in the country illegally. But Cindy Axne wants to join extreme liberals to abolish ICE, an immigration agency responsible for enforcing our borders and tracking down criminals who are in the country illegally.
August 23 UPDATE: Pete D’Alessandro, who sought the Democratic nomination in IA-03, told Bleeding Heartland that he and Axne appeared at many candidate forums over a period of months. “I clearly stated I was for abolishing ICE and Cindy Axne disagreed with me every time without equivocation. Anybody who tries to say she stands anywhere other than that is lying.”