What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Citing Iowa murder case, GOP renews call for stricter immigration policy

The tragic killing of a young woman in Iowa might have been just another homicide, but it attracted widespread national attention when a Mexican immigrant, in the U.S. illegally, was charged with her murder. William Brangham reports on how the case of Mollie Tibbetts has been seized upon by President Trump and his party as representing the treacherous threat of illegal immigration.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The tragic murder of a young woman in Iowa might not have received much national attention, but that all changed when an immigrant from Mexico in the United States illegally was charged in her death.

    As William Brangham reports, Mollie Tibbetts' case has now been seized upon by the president and his party.

  • William Brangham:

    Mollie Tibbetts was a 20-year-old college student from the University of Iowa who, back in July, went out for her usual evening run. She never came home.

    For five weeks. Her family and local authorities searched everywhere. They set up a Web site for tips. Police conducted hundreds of interviews.

  • Kevin Winker:

    Our focus right now is to find Mollie.

  • William Brangham:

    But then, on Tuesday morning, authorities discovered Tibbetts' body in a cornfield covered with leaves.

    The man who'd taken police to the spot, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, is now charged with her murder. Rivera is believed to have entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico. He lived in a neighboring town and worked at a local dairy for several years.

    While Rivera's arrest brought some sense of closure to the Tibbetts family, the tragedy of her death is also being used as a rallying cry against illegal immigration.

    Hours after the news broke, President Trump brought up Tibbetts' murder at a rally in West Virginia.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman.

  • Geraldo Rivera:

    It is so, so sad.

  • William Brangham:

    Conservative outlets, especially FOX News, gave Tibbetts' story heavy coverage, emphasizing that Rivera had come to the U.S. illegally and how Tibbetts' murder was directly caused by U.S. immigration policy.

  • Tucker Carlson:

    This man had no right to be here.

  • William Brangham:

    A steady stream of Republicans echoed this theme.

    Iowa's Republican Governor Kim Reynolds described the news as heart-wrenching and added, "As Iowans, we are heartbroken and we are angry. Angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community."

    Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote, "Mollie would be alive if our government had taken immigration enforcement seriously a decade ago."

    Some in Tibbetts' family have pushed back on this linkage. Tibbetts' cousin, Sam Lucas, responding to one conservative activist, wrote, "We are not so small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. Now stop using my cousin's death as political propaganda."

    But yesterday afternoon, the White House amplified the story, releasing this tweet about Tibbetts and including a video montage of grieving parents whose children had also been killed by what the White House called illegal aliens.

  • Woman:

    He was hit head on by a repeat illegal alien criminal.

  • Woman:

    Known gang member came in the van, and he fired the gun.

  • Woman:

    He strangled him and then let him go to see if he was breathing, strangled him over and over and over, until death.

  • Woman:

    And he dragged Matthew a quarter-of-a-mile to his death.

  • William Brangham:

    Four hours later, the president posted his own video about Tibbetts.

  • President Donald Trump:

    A person came in from Mexico illegally and killed her. We need the wall. We have tremendous crime trying to come through the borders.

  • William Brangham:

    This has been one of the president's most consistent themes, the linking of immigrants with crime and violence. The day he announced his presidential run, he accused Mexico of sending rapists and murderers across the border.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.

    Illegal immigration costs our country hundreds of billions of dollars.

  • William Brangham:

    At rallies and on Twitter over the past year, the president repeatedly mentions the violent El Salvadoran gang MS-13 and routinely says Democrats want open borders, which will mean more crime.

    While this is the president's mantra, that immigrants equal crime, evidence points in the other direction. Several studies have shown that areas with higher rates of immigrants have lower rates of crime. Other studies demonstrate that immigrants themselves commit crimes at lower levels than native-born Americans.

    But many Republicans counter that this isn't about immigrants; it's about immigrants here illegally. They say any crime committed by an undocumented immigrant is one crime too many.

    Perhaps the most nakedly political rationale for talking about Mollie Tibbetts' murder came yesterday from former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who was contacting various news outlets, asking them to cover the tragedy.

    In an e-mail to Axios, Gingrich wrote, "If Mollie Tibbetts is a Household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble. If we, the Republicans, can be blocked by Manafort, Cohen, et cetera, then GOP could lose the House badly."

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest