Yes, America Benefits From All Immigration—Legal and Illegal

For many Americans, the killing of Mollie Tibbetts is all the more tragic because the person who confessed to murdering the 20-year-old University of Iowa student—Cristhian Bathena Rivera—appears to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

Some say that if Rivera hadn’t been in the country, Tibbetts would be alive today.

Tibbetts might also be alive today if she hadn’t gone jogging alone in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18, or if Rivera hadn’t found work at a nearby dairy and had moved to another state.

If you’re worried that every one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States threatens public safety, I have a tip.

Today, on Labor Day, do a little extra work, break a sweat, and wean yourself, your friends, and your family off undocumented immigrant labor. Do your own chores, cook your own food, tend to your own kids, clean your own house—and milk your own cows.

Americans who want less immigration—legal and illegal—always portray immigrants as deviant and dangerous. The same line was used against the Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, etc.

But in 30 years of covering the immigration debate, here’s what I have never understood: If Americans are so terrified of undocumented immigrants, why are we so quick to bring them into our lives? We give them the security codes to our gated communities so they can cut our lawn, leave them alone in our homes so they can clean our toilets, and hand them our babies so we can get to yoga.

Shouldn’t we all be more careful? If they’re going to cook our food in restaurants, shouldn’t we have tasters?

One person who refuses to buy into the familiar anti-immigrant hysteria is Mollie’s father. And, according to The Des Moines Register, Rob Tibbetts told mourners at his daughter’s funeral that he felt embraced by the Latino immigrant community during the several weeks that he was in Brooklyn to help search for Mollie.

The search ended on Aug. 21, when Rivera led authorities to her body in a cornfield outside Brooklyn. An autopsy has revealed that she died of multiple stab wounds, and Rivera has been charged with first-degree murder.

During his stay in Iowa, Rob Tibbetts visited Mexican restaurants. He found the clientele to be kind and welcoming.

“The Hispanic community are Iowans,” he said. “They have the same values as Iowans. As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food.”

The quip brought down the house at the mass, which was attended by more than 1,000 people.

Before Mollie’s body was found, I had been thinking about how immigrants—even the undocumented ones—make America great.

But once the conversation became about Tibbetts’ death, few people were in the mood to hear about the benefits of illegal immigration. They were fixated on the costs.

I get that. I’m not just the grandson of an immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico, who crossed the border legally around 1915. I’m also the father of three children who knows the pain of losing a child. From the moment I saw that Tibbetts had gone missing, I held my breath and hoped for her safe return.

As a Mexican-American, I also prayed that, if Tibbetts were a victim of foul play, the culprit would not turn out to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

Rivera ruined that. He claims he approached her while she was jogging and tried to talk to her, that she threatened to call police, and that he panicked and struck her. He says he doesn’t remember anything else. Rivera arrived in the United States as a child and apparently lied about his legal status to get the job at the dairy farm.

Republicans use these tragedies to tighten immigration laws. That train is always on time. Within hours of Rivera’s arrest, President Trump picked up that script in speaking to supporters in West Virginia. “The immigration laws are such a disgrace,” he told the crowd after referencing Tibbetts’ death.

The real disgrace was when Newt Gingrich made clear that he thinks Republicans should wave the bloody shirt and use Tibbetts’ death to win votes in the November midterms. In an email to the political news site Axios, the former House speaker predicted: “If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in big trouble.”

So the Democratic Party platform now supports the murder of young girls? How sick can you get? Gingrich is obviously off his meds.

Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, responded in a tweet: “Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color.”

Even white. My Latino and African-American friends get nervous about white males who stockpile guns.

Yet, when I wrote a column after the Las Vegas massacre suggesting that these folks ought to be tracked by authorities, Fox News host Tucker Carlson invited me onto his show and called me a racist six times in four minutes.

Would Tibbetts’ death have been any less tragic if she had been killed by a U.S. citizen?

Studies show a higher percentage of citizens commit violent crimes than undocumented immigrants. Breaking one law—i.e., the civil violation of entering the country illegally—doesn’t mean you’ll break more laws. Being undocumented could mean keeping a low profile.

Those are facts. But restrictionists peddle fear. And fear doesn’t listen to facts.

There is a reason that America is home to an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It’s because Americans know that they benefit from these people, and so they make sure they always have a healthy supply of them on hand.

Undocumented immigrants take jobs that Americans won’t do. They pay taxes—Social Security withholdings they’ll never see again, sales taxes when they buy food or clothes, property taxes whether they own or rent, even income taxes using an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) if they want to be able to apply for a green card one day. They keep ranches and farms humming along, which allows the owners to pay taxes and pump money into the economy when they buy goods and contract for services. They keep hotels and restaurants profitable, which allows those businesses to hire more people—including U.S. citizens, who then pump their paychecks into the economy. Most of all, they keep afloat the American household by cutting lawns, cleaning homes, and tending to children so that men and women can spend more time working outside the home and contribute to the nation’s productivity.

Undocumented immigrants bring hope, optimism, perseverance, and a ferocious work ethic. They become devoted to this country for giving them a second chance, so much so that they’ll watch their children go into the military. They defer gratification, save for the future, and trust in a better tomorrow. They maintain close-knit families, raise children to respect teachers and other authority figures, and fill the pews in churches from Los Angeles to Boston. They start businesses that pay taxes, employ people, provide goods, and revitalize entire communities left for dead by native-born Americans. Lastly, they help keep the entire Social Security system afloat by handing over payroll taxes that go to support retirees—many of whom want them out of the country.

This doesn’t mean that Americans should condone illegal immigration. Or that there aren’t costs. Or that we should open the borders.

And it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn the death of a young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

What it means is that in an immigration debate that is starved for truth and candor  Americans should admit that most undocumented immigrants pull their own weight, contribute as much as they take, and play a significant role in making America great. And keeping it that way.

In an address at an Iowa high school, Rob Tibbetts asked mourners to remember his daughter’s passion for life instead of focusing on how she died.

“Today, we need to turn the page,” he said. “We’re at the end of a long ordeal. But we need to turn toward life—Mollie’s life—because Mollie is nobody’s victim. Mollie is my hero.”

In the current climate, and stemming from anguish, those comments were heroic too.