House Republican lawmakers are being encouraged by their party’s leadership to play up gruesome murders, rapes, and other crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the United States.
In a newsletter sent on Friday, House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., provided the caucus and staff with a messaging update that compiled immigrant crimes by date and congressional district. The newsletter is used by the GOP caucus to provide talking points and messaging guidance. The edition of the newsletter dealing with immigrant crimes, which was obtained by The Intercept, offered a messaging opportunity to leverage the government shutdown against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Speaker Pelosi made one thing clear during the government shutdown: she doesn’t care about the tragic consequences of illegal immigration on American families,” the newsletter says.
Under the header “The Democrats’ far-left immigration agenda has tragic real-world consequences,” the newsletter goes on to list crimes committed over the last two decades.
The list includes alleged crimes and points out which Republican House members’ districts the events took place in. In one case, “an illegal immigrant from El Salvador was charged with murdering four people” in Rep. Mark Amodei’s Nevada district, the newsletter says. In another, it recounts “the story of a 16-year-old, who was killed in 2000 by an illegal immigrant in a car crash on Father’s Day” in Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s Georgia district. Yet another bullet point describes “an illegal immigrant who previously had been deported in 2015 for a felony drug trafficking conviction [who] was charged with first degree rape” in Rep. Gary Palmer’s Alabama district.
The congressional document mirrors recent tweets by President Donald Trump linking crimes committed by immigrants to the need to expand the wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Just before the midterm election last year, Trump tweeted a 53-second video featuring Luis Bracamontes boasting about murdering two sheriff’s deputies in 2014. After the clip of Bracamontes, the video flashes text that claims, “Democrats let him into our country … Democrats let him stay.” As independent fact-checkers noted, the message was highly misleading. Bracamontes was deported under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The House Republican Conference messaging document includes several stories that were simply shared by Republican lawmakers without any names or news stories attached. The House Republican Conference spokesperson declined to comment on the newsletter.
Studies have consistently shown that crime rates are actually lower among foreign immigrants than among native-born Americans. But the strategy does not appear to be a fair-minded discussion of immigration policy — or crime, for that matter.
Across the world, demagogues have deftly exploited bigotry to whip up anger using incidents of murder and rape. Increasingly, social media has become an effective way to weaponize tragic acts and use them for partisan political goals. In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany party has singularly focused on several cases of murders committed by refugees to intensify hatred of Middle Eastern immigrants. In Myanmar, lurid stories posted on Facebook detailing purported acts of rape and murder by the Muslim Rohingya minority against the Buddhist majority were used to justify a brutal ethnic cleaning in the northwest Rakhine State. In some cases, the stories were false. Viral stories that focus on the identity of killers to stoke ethnic tension can also be found in India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and beyond.
In the U.S., there is a long history of racist violence following politicians’ focus on crimes — real or imagined — by particular minority groups. Across the ideological spectrum, many on social media continue to fixate on the racial or ethnic identity of criminals. Trump’s embrace of the strategy now appears to have reverberated across the Republican Party, with GOP lawmakers now openly encouraged to stoke fear over immigrant crime.