A horrific mass killing in Texas has opened new sores in the national debate over illegal immigration and crime.
Five people, including a young boy whose age has been reported as 8 or 9, were killed Friday in Cleveland, Texas. The shooting in the small community about 45 miles north of Houston happened after neighbors reportedly told a man to stop shooting in his yard and he became enraged.
The alleged shooter has been named as Francisco Oropeza, 38. As of Monday afternoon, law enforcement agencies have been unable to apprehend Oropeza, despite a massive manhunt.
The case has taken on political power for reasons beyond the gruesome nature of the killing.
Oropeza is a Mexican national who appears to have been in the United States illegally. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have confirmed that he was deported on at least four previous occasions stretching back more than a decade.
His previous deportations, those officials said, took place in March 2009, September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016.
That record, and the terrible crime of which he stands accused, has outraged those who want a stricter border policy.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, noted that seeking to illegally reenter the United States having previously been deported is a felony.
“Had we prosecuted him for that felony, he would not have been able to kill” his alleged victims, Judd said.
Judd also made a wider point about border policy under President Biden.
“When you hear people like [Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas say the border is not open, you have to look at this particular case … If somebody was able to reenter this country five different times despite being deported, that clearly shows the border is, in fact, open.”
Liberal advocates hit back, arguing that, historically, immigrants commit crime at lower rates than native-born Americans — and that attempts to draw a cause-and-effect line between immigration policy and the latest killing are raw demagoguery.
It’s a point that finds support from some independent observers.
Rhetoric linking illegal immigration and violent crime “has been used for a long time,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
“None of the social science data confirms that is true and it quite often shows the opposite — that neighborhoods with a lot of immigration are safer,” said Zelizer. “But politically it has been very powerful. It creates the idea of an enemy coming from outside who is now inside.”
The political battle is only growing more intense.
“This illegal alien brutally murdered 5 individuals in an ‘execution-style’ shooting,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) tweeted Monday. “He was previously deported and has been arrested numerous times. Why was he in our country roaming around freely?”
Biggs called for the impeachment of Mayorkas.
Kari Lake, the defeated GOP candidate in last November’s Arizona gubernatorial election, tweeted, “How do we continue to let these criminals into the country?”
At Monday’s media briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre characterized the events in Cleveland as “yet another shocking, horrific act of gun violence.”
Jean-Pierre noted that while President Biden was “praying” for those affected, “the president believes prayers alone are not enough.”
The press secretary noted Biden’s desire for Congress to pass stricter gun-control legislation — a long-held wish that has almost no chance of being fulfilled anytime soon.
Continuing the political back-and-forth, the Republican National Committee tweeted within minutes of Jean-Pierre’s opening remarks that she did “not mention” that Oropeza is “an illegal immigrant who has been deported FIVE TIMES.”
The atrocity in Texas arises at an especially febrile time when it comes to debates about the border.
Encounters between unauthorized migrants and Customs and Border Protection agents at the southwestern border hit their highest figure ever recorded last December, at more than 252,000.
The figure declined significantly in January and February, to fewer than 160,000 in each month. But in March, the most recent month for which data is available, those encounters rose again, to almost 192,000.
It is widely expected that those numbers will surge once Title 42 ends in less than two weeks. That Trump-era policy, continued under Biden, was used to quickly expel migrants and is expected to end on May 11.
Immigration has long been one of Biden’s weakest political issues and Republicans are sure to want to press their advantage on the topic as the presidential campaign heats up.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-April, just 27 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of immigration — tying for the lowest approval number in any of the 11 issues tested in that survey.
Advocates of a stricter immigration policy see the shooting in Texas as evidence of how badly the current policy is falling.
“It’s just another example of what happens when we fail to enforse our laws, when you fail to enforce the border,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors a stricter immigration system. “Virtually nobody is deported anymore.”
But Mehlman distanced himself from a controversial statement from the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which referred to the victims of the Cleveland shooting as “five illegal immigrants.”
“It doesn’t matter what the immigration states of the victims is,” Mehlman said. “Nobody should be killed for asking a guy to stop shooting in his backyard.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
Source: The Hill
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