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November 18th, 2018

Insight

You want to talk about separating families? Let's talk about Mollie Tibbetts

John Kass

By John Kass

Published August 24,2018

You want to talk about separating families? Let's talk about Mollie Tibbetts

Go ahead and play your word games and tell me about the cruelty of borders, the kindness of sanctuary cities and the political wisdom of abolishing ICE.

Tell me about government's lack of compassion, and of the heartbreak of families separated from each other through broken immigration policy.

Tell me how racist it is, how cruel it is to think that a nation should control its own borders and stop, rather than reward, illegal immigration.

And then tell me about Mollie Tibbetts.

The 20-year-old University of Iowa student was separated from her family too.

She was separated from those she loved a month ago, when she went jogging near her home near Des Moines. Her accused killer, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, authorities said, was in the country illegally. He worked at a large dairy farm owned by a prominent Iowa Republican.

His lawyers, seeking a gag order in the case, insist Rivera is here legally. The truth will eventually come out, as well as the circumstances of her death, with an autopsy to be performed.

Investigators said her alleged killer stalked her, approached her, then said he blacked out and couldn't remember much. But he remembered enough to help police find her body in a cornfield.

And ever since, Mollie Tibbetts has been pulled at by politics.

Democrats who want the Latino vote ignore her or they pivot, smoothly, making their pitch for "compassionate" immigration policy and attacking President Donald Trump.

Republicans who are pushing stronger border control use her as an emotional symbol. Republicans whose agribusiness political contributors want cheap labor for their packing houses and their farms avoid her, as if she was never here.

Apparently, they really don't mind a few dead Americans if they can keep to their political talking points.

And Trump, who rode to the White House by tapping into a real, desperate and bipartisan American desire to stop illegal immigration, disfigures the debate. He exaggerates the threat of crime by those in the country illegally, making it seem as if they're driving a violent national crime spree when statistics say otherwise.

But victims of violent immigrants here illegally are more than mere statistics or a point from which to pivot and attack.

They're more than broken eggs in the political policy wars.

They were real people. They lived real lives. They were loved. They were daughters and sons and husbands and wives. And they are dead, the result of immigration policy and partisan politics.

Because if we actually did something about illegal immigration, rather than shout at each other and play politics, Mollie Tibbetts would be alive today.

She'd be alive like so many others would be alive.

Kate Steinle would be alive. She wouldn't have died while walking along a pier in San Francisco with her father when a habitual criminal here illegally fired a gun. He claimed it was all an accident and was acquitted of murder.

"Help me, Dad," were her last words.

We don't know the last words of Dennis McCann of Chicago. But he'd be alive too.

Instead, McCann was dragged to his death under a car driven by a drunk in Chicago in 2012. McCann was hit so hard that his shoes were left on the pavement. The rest of him was pulled a half-mile under the car along Logan Boulevard.

The drunk was jailed and charged, but under an allegedly compassionate policy pushed by Cook County Democrats pandering for Latino votes, the driver, Saul Chavez, was not held for pickup by federal immigration authorities.

He was compassionately allowed to make bail. And once out on the street, Saul Chavez fled back home to Mexico. And there were no real answers for McCann's horrified and stunned family.

All they were given were vague, political regrets and mind-numbing Democratic Party talk by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle about process and writs. Preckwinkle's a powerful political boss. McCann is dead. Chavez is gone.

So please, tell me about political cruelty.

Trump vaulted to the top of the Republican presidential pile by targeting illegal immigration. The Republican establishment was not pleased. And Democrats campaigning against Trump use his exaggerations as reason to avoid victims like Tibbetts.

Or step over them quickly, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and presumptive candidate for president, did on CNN the other day.

"I'm so sorry for the family here and I know this is hard not only for her family but for the people in her community, the people throughout Iowa," Warren said.

Warren will go through Iowa next year and eat corn and talk about close-knit families and demonstrate warmth as she campaigns in what her aides will call "the heartland." She might pick up a pork chop and pose in farm clothes next to a bale of hay.

But she stepped over Mollie Tibbets and then it was time for her pivot, a pivot that was ruthless as it was obvious in its cynicism.

"Last month, I went down to the border and I saw where children had been taken away from their mothers," Warren said on CNN. "I met with those mothers -- who had been lied to, who didn't know where their children were, who didn't have a chance to talk to their children. And there was no plan for how they would be reunified with their children."

Sen. Warren, isn't that horrifying, parents not knowing the whereabouts of their children, not having a chance to say goodbye?

Like the parents of Mollie Tibbetts, after their daughter went out for a run, never to come home.

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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM.

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