Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Talk about upping the blame game. In a new ad released on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Trump campaign called Democrats “who stand in our way” complicit in every murder committed by undocumented immigrants in the US. After featuring blunt footage of an accused cop killer making threatening statements in a California courtroom, an ominous-sounding narrator intones that “President Trump is right. Build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now.”
This ad is wrong on every level. It stokes fear by conflating undocumented immigrants with violent crime. It suggests that Democrats should be considered accessories to homicides committed by the undocumented. Worst of all, it needlessly injects more divisiveness at a moment when the government has just ended a shutdown.
This ad is especially troubling because it promotes the myth that undocumented immigrants are violent criminals. There is no evidence that undocumented people commit more crimes than native-born Americans. In fact, contrary to what the Trump ad implies, there are numerous studies showing that immigrants – including the undocumented – are less likely to commit crimes than people born here.
The number of undocumented immigrants in the US tripled between the 1990s and 2013, NBC News has noted, while violent crime declined 48% and property crime fell 41% over that same time period.
Even by the Trump’s administration’s xenophobic standards, this ad is extreme. It starts off bombastically, by showing Luis Bracamontes in a profane and threatening outburst in court. Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, is currently on trial for allegedly killing two Northern California deputies, and the ad shows his threat to break out and kill more law enforcement officers.
The word “allegedly” is important here. Despite his foul language, Bracamontes has pleaded not guilty; his public defenders want him found not guilty by reason of insanity, based in part on his outbursts. So this ad, purportedly in support of law and order, disregards the presumption of innocence that is the very hallmark of the American justice system.
Bracamontes may well be found guilty of two murders by a California jury. At the very least, he seems to be a disturbed individual.
What Bracamontes is not is a fair representative of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, any more than Bernie Madoff is representative of all stockbrokers. Just like all the rest of us, among the undocumented there are good eggs and, as Trump would have it, “bad hombres.” However, the former is far more the reality than the latter.
There are undocumented immigrants serving in the military, and among the first soldiers who were killed in Iraq. An undocumented New Mexico man helped save a child from abduction in 2011, and another originally undocumented migrant was among the first to assist victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Last year, a DACA recipient drowned trying to rescue Hurricane Harvey flood victims outside Houston.
It’s no wonder that lawmakers from both parties who have seen this ad, or who have been asked to comment on it, have rejected its message. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) called it an attempt to “foment hatred.” Pressed for his reaction on CBS’ Face The Nation, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) stated that “I don’t know if that’s necessarily productive.”
They’re both right. The ad “Complicit” is nothing more than fearmongering, pure and simple.
It is so bad that the White House can’t even settle on a strategy for dealing with it. The administration has tried to distance itself from it, despite the fact that it ends with the voice-over of the President saying, “I’m Donald Trump and I approve this message.” Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, initially said, on “Meet The Press” on Sunday. that the ad was done by an outside group; then he went on to defend it, declaring it “helpful” to “raise awareness of the crisis we have.”
No, Mr. Short, “Complicit” is not helpful. The crisis we have right now is that our government is shut down. How is inflaming tensions around immigration going to be “helpful” to reaching any sort of agreement that will actually protect the Dreamers?
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In a roundabout way, the “Complicit” ad makes the case for bringing back the Obama-era priorities for immigration enforcement, which focused on dangerous criminals, national security threats and recent arrivals. That approach would help immigration agents find more people like Bracamontes, instead of spending their time and our tax dollars deporting otherwise law-abiding moms and dads.
By any measure, the “Complicit” ad paints a distorted “fake news” picture of the undocumented. It speaks volumes that the Trump administration cannot own its immigration policies without resorting to such disgusting tactics.