Minnesota state Sen. Karin Housley on Wednesday seized on the
killing of a young Iowa college student — and the reported
confession of an immigrant with disputed legal status — to take
the fight on the immigration issue to her Democratic opponent,
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith.
Housley, a Republican from the Stillwater area, released a
statement calling the murder a “preventable tragedy.” She
charged that Smith and “liberal Democrats … are more concerned
about protecting criminal aliens than protecting innocent lives
like Mollie Tibbetts.”
Smith did not directly address Housley’s attack: “This is an
awful tragedy and my heart breaks for Mollie’s family. I can
imagine nothing worse than losing a child. The individual
responsible for this heinous crime must be brought to justice
and punished,” Smith said in a statement to the Star Tribune.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera was charged with Tibbetts’ murder
Tuesday, and authorities said he was in the country illegally.
But on Wednesday his lawyer filed a motion stating his client is
living and working in Iowa legally.
On Wednesday, a member of Tibbetts’ extended family, Sam Lucas,
a recent graduate of the University of Missouri, tweeted angrily
that the death should not be used as “political propaganda.” In
addition, Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, urged people in
a Facebook post to remember that “evil comes in all colors.”
Republicans — and especially President Donald Trump — have
sought to shine a light on millions of people here in violation
of American immigration law, and who Republicans say pose a
threat to the nation’s safety.
Democrats, outraged by the Trump administration’s policy of
separating families seeking asylum and other aggressive
deportation tactics, have grown increasingly defiant, including
calls from some — though not Smith — to abolish the Immigration
and Customs Enforcement arm of the federal government.
In her statement, Smith detailed her own views on immigration:
“Since coming to the Senate, I have voted to increase funding
for border security by more than $25 billion. I also believe we
need better intelligence and more effective technology at the
border. And we need to make sure reform includes a tough but
fair path to citizenship for people who are in this country
working, paying taxes and contributing to our society.”
Housley and Trump, who favor a border wall and want to force
cities and states to aggressively enforce immigration laws, say
violent crime is a natural outgrowth of an uncontrolled border.
According to a 2015 National Academy of Sciences report,
however, “Immigrants are in fact much less likely to commit
crime than natives, and the presence of large numbers of
immigrants seems to lower crime rates.”
Jessica Vaughan, the policy director of the Center for
Immigration Studies, which favors tighter immigration controls,
said the data are inconclusive. “Anyone who says they know the
answer to that question is misleading you” because the vast
majority of jurisdictions don’t track the immigration status of
criminals and the census data on the immigration status of the
incarcerated is a flawed measure of crime rates, Vaughan said.
Vaughan said the relevant policy questions are about deterring
people from coming, the swift removal of those who commit crimes
and a crackdown on those who hire them.
Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst with the Cato
Institute, said it is clear that undocumented immigrants commit
fewer crimes, citing a preponderance of peer-reviewed studies,
including a Cato study of Texas, the rare jurisdiction that
tracks the immigration status of criminals.
The problem with an emphasis on crime committed by immigrants
not in the country legally, Nowrasteh said, is that “they’re
focusing government resources on a population less likely to
commit murders. That’s a waste of resources that could have been
used to prevent murder in populations that are more likely to
Trump, who made immigration a centerpiece of his presidential
campaign, is hammering Democrats on the issue in the run-up to
the election that could decide which party controls Congress.
At a campaign rally in West Virginia Tuesday, Trump blamed
faulty immigration law for Tibbetts’ murder: “You heard about
today with the illegal immigrant coming in, very sadly, from
Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful
young woman,” Trump told the crowd in Charleston. “Should’ve
never happened. Illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge
impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a
disgrace, we’re getting them changed, but we have to get more
Republicans. We have to get ’em.”
Housley’s campaign cited a string of public statements and votes
by Smith since her appointment as senator in early 2018. Smith
is against a border wall, and attacked Trump’s order ending
protections for Liberian Minnesotans from deportation. She also
voted against a measure that would restrict law enforcement
grant money to sanctuary jurisdictions, and a proposal by Iowa
Sen. Charles Grassley to eliminate the diversity visa lottery
program and limit which individuals can become naturalized
“It was a wake-up call for all of us to have a young innocent
girl lace up her shoes and go for a run and be raped and
murdered. It makes me think of my own daughters and how it could
happen in any community,” Housley said in a Star Tribune
interview. “Tina Smith and the Democrats are part of the
problem,” she said.
The Smith campaign pointed to Housley’s changing position on
Trump’s border wall. She told the Mankato Free Press in January
that it’s not feasible but is now attacking Smith for her
opposition to the wall. The Grassley amendment, meanwhile, faced
bipartisan opposition, including from 14 Republicans.
Although the Tibbetts murder has attracted national attention,
Housley pointed to another recent case in which a woman was
killed, this one in Minnesota. The man charged with fatally
stabbing his ex-girlfriend in a Shakopee apartment before
slashing his own throat has a criminal history that led to his
deportation to Mexico, federal officials said Tuesday.
The Associated Press and the Washington Post contributed to this