The political campaign video depicting a cop killer from Mexico that’s become a key part of President Donald Trump’s closing argument for the midterm elections isn’t just an attempt to appeal to people’s anxieties about immigration and crime, it’s also based on a misleading — if not outright false — claim.
The video shows Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican man convicted in February of the 2014 slaying of two California deputies, declaring in court that he wanted to kill more cops, while text overlaid on the screen says, “Democrats let him into our country” and “Democrats let him stay.” A review of his case, however, shows multiple interactions with both local and federal officials during Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as noted anti-immigration firebrand Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.
The video has been denounced by Democrats and some Republicans as racist for comparing Bracamontes with the caravans of migrants heading toward the US from Central America. But beyond the attempt to taint a group of people with the horrific actions of one, the details of Bracamontes’ story also show it’s simply false to blame Democrats for his entrance into the US.
Bracamontes had been arrested, been deported and re-entered the country multiple times before the 2014 killings, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. An Immigrations and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman told CNN in 2014 following his arrest that Bracamontes was arrested and deported twice, first in 1997 and then 2001, under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
The last time he was known to have entered the US from Mexico was during the Bush administration, according to records obtained by the Sacramento Bee, which covered the killing of the two deputies, who were based in the area.
Bracamontes was arrested multiple times in Maricopa County and jailed by Arpaio, who was pardoned by Trump last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt.
Bracamontes was arrested in Maricopa County on drug charges in 1996, according to county court records, and was deported by ICE in 1997, the agency said. “He was booked into the jails I run for drug-related convictions,” Arpaio said in 2014, according to the Arizona Republic. “He was evidently turned over to ICE and had been deported on two occasions.”
Bracamontes quickly returned to the US, and was arrested again by Arpaio in 1998, then released “for reasons unknown,” the Bee reported.
Bracamontes was arrested yet again in 2001 on drug charges in Maricopa County, and was deported three days later. It’s not clear when exactly he re-entered the country, but marriage records show he was back in the US by 2002. He was married in Maricopa County on Feb. 28, 2002, according to the Bee.
In a 2014 interview with National Public Radio, Arpaio expressed regret that Bracamontes had “slipped through the cracks.”
“I don’t know how many times he was arrested and slipped through the cracks. It’s my gut feeling it wasn’t just two times he’s been deported,” Arpaio said. CNN was unable to reach Arpaio for comment.
The Trump video pivots from expletive-filled court footage of Bracamontes to scenes of migrant groups making their way through Mexico toward the US border — an overt suggestion that criminals like Bracamontes would be part of the caravan as the screen flashes “Who else would Democrats let in?”
The video is part of a fear-based closing argument from Trump on immigration before Tuesday’s election, which has included the President’s announcement that up to15,000 US troops could be sent to the border, his call to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship and his stated intention to restrict US asylum rules.
Trump has pushed all of these as efforts to stop the caravan despite the fact that the migrants are still weeks — or even months — away from reaching the US border.
The tenor of the new video and the flurry of immigration announcements have been condemned by Democrats, and some moderate Republicans have also denounced them.
“This is a sickening ad,” tweeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Trump critic who is retiring. “Republicans everywhere should denounce it.”
CNN’s reporting on the ground with the migrants has shown a different picture than the one painted by Trump. During a week traveling with the migrants, CNN witnessed little, if any, organization. The people traveling have joined and left at will, CNN has reported, and say they are traveling in search of jobs and to escape hate and persecution.
Trump’s Bracamontes video is hardly the only Republican campaign ad that’s suggested the migrants, traveling in groups, pose a threat to the US. Numerous GOP candidates in competitive races, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have focused on the migrants in the closing days of the campaign.
“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican,” Trump said at his Missouri rally on Thursday. “These are tough people. These are not angels. These are not little angels. These are tough people. And we’re not letting them into our country. They’re not coming in illegally.”
The Department of Homeland Security said in a “myth vs. fact” press release on Thursday that “270 individuals along the caravan route have criminal histories, including known gang membership.” It’s not clear how the Trump administration arrived at that number. A DHS official would not elaborate because it was “law enforcement sensitive.”
Friday morning, in comments at the Council on Foreign Relations, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged that people legitimately seeking asylum are also part of the migrant group in addition to the criminals the administration is focusing on. “(They) are proving to be quite violent. They are covering their faces, they are attacking the federal police there, attacking the military in Mexico,” Nielsen said. “They are putting the migrants, who are in the caravan, who are seeking asylum, at risk.”