The tragic murder of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts has become an anti-immigration talking point that have some calling it an example of the flawed U.S. immigration system. Tibbetts’s parents have asked politicians and fellow Americans not to politicize the tragic death. Cristhian Rivera, the 24-year-old who’s been charged for the murder of Tibbetts, has been the focal point of discussion because of his legal status in the U.S.
So many questions remain concerning the death of Mollie Tibbetts and how this tragedy ever happened.
Tibbetts, the 20-year-old University of Iowa student, was found dead buried beneath cornstalks on a farm outside Brooklyn, Iowa. She had been missing for over a month after she was was last seen on July 18 jogging near her home. Rivera, who illegally came to the United States at age 17, was charged with her murder on August 22 after he confessed to following Tibbetts on her run. Investigators used surveillance footage to track down Rivera and found video showed Rivera’s car following Tibbetts.
In an arrest affidavit, Rivera said he remembered getting mad at her; what happened afterwards is “blocked” from his memory. A preliminary report from autopsy on Tibbetts’ body shows that her death was a “homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries,” the Iowa State Medical Examiner said.
Back-and-forth claims have caused public confusion around Rivera’s legal status including him using a second name.
For the last four years, Rivera worked at Yarrabee Farms, a dairy farm owned by the family of former Iowa GOP official Craig Lang, which initially claimed that Rivera had been vetted as legal to work through the government’s e-Verify system. Yarrabee Farms has since learned he applied for the job under a different name and provided false identification, including a state-issued government ID and social security number. Manager Dale Lang admitted that they didn’t actually vet him through e-Verify as originally stated; according to the Des Moines Register, they erroneously assumed e-Verify was the same as the Social Security Administration’s number verification service, which does not check immigration status or eligibility to work in the U.S
Rivera’s attorney, Allan M. Richards, has acknowledged that Rivera was paid under a different name, but has continued to dispute claims that his client is in the country illegally. Rivera has paid taxes for years and has no criminal record Richards said. He has also implied that his client would have been eligible for citizenship under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) yet there is no record of Rivera making any DACA requests.
While there are questions surrounding the murder case, including the legal status of Rivera and the motive, the family does not want Tibbetts’s death politicized.
Coverage surrounding the tragic murder of Tibbetts has been a two sided story that has seen some media outlets use Rivera’s legal status as the leading narrative. President Donald Trump has led the argument that this case shows the need to maintain stricter border security and kick out undocumented immigrants. Even the White House Twitter account posted a video with accounts of people whose family members had been killed by undocumented immigrants.
“A person came in from Mexico illegally and killed her,” Trump said in a Twitter post. “We need the wall, we need our immigration laws changed, we need our border laws changed, we need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it.”
The Tibbetts family is trying to put the focus back on Mollie’s death and not the immigration narrative the media has created.
Tibbetts’s cousin, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, wrote in a Facebook post that Rivera’s legal status doesn’t matter because the tragedy was a result of toxic masculinity, as opposed to a man simply immigrating to the United States.
“He is a man, whose path in life crossed that of Mollie’s life, with tragic results,” Murphy wrote. “He is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie’s life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances — the right to her own autonomy.”
Instead of using this tragedy to divide a community, many are using to come together.
At least two Iowa festivals dedicated to Latino heritage and scheduled this past weekend were cancelled days before citing heated rhetoric about Hispanics. Manny Galvez, organizer of the Iowa City Latino Festival, said the decision to postpone Saturday’s event was based on “respect for Mollie, her family and friends.” Instead community members of Perry, Iowa came to hold a “Peace, Love and Unity Rally” due to the cancellation of the ¡Viva Perry! Latino Festival.
Rob Tibbetts, the father of Mollie Tibbetts, eulogized his 20-year-old daughter on Sunday that included messages to the Iowa community calling for a refocus on her life. The rally and burial of Tibbetts over the weekend is the turning of a new page. It brings hope that Mollie’s death won’t be remembered as an anti-immigration talking point but a terrible tragedy that brought an entire community together.
“The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans,” Rob Tibbetts said at his daughters funeral. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food.”
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