"Democrats let him [police killer Luis Bracamontes] into our country … Democrats let him stay …. Who else would Democrats let in?”
— campaign ad tweeted by President Trump, Oct. 31, 2018
President Trump has sought to focus the midterm elections on what he describes as the national security threat posed by several thousand migrants making a 1,000-mile trek from Honduras through Mexico to the southern border with the United States. As part of his closing message, he tweeted a campaign video that features Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of shooting to death two California police officers in 2014.
As video of the smirking Bracamontes, who boasts that he would kill more police if he could, and scenes of Central American migrants appear, the ad pins all of the blame for the killings on Democrats. The ad concludes: “President Donald Trump and Republicans are making America safe again.”
This narrative has a big problem: It’s false.
There’s often a problem with using a single anecdote to illustrate a societal issue. We’ve documented that there is no evidence that illegal immigrants cause more crime than U.S. citizens; in fact, immigrants in general have lower rates of crime than U.S. citizens. Of course, just as there are cop killers who are citizens, there are cop killers who are undocumented immigrants. But that does not mean undocumented immigrants kill police at a higher rate than do U.S. citizens.
The campaign ad claims that Democrats are responsible for Bracamontes being in the United States. But here’s what really happened, according to a review of the court records by the Arizona Republic and the Sacramento Bee that show his case was handled primarily by Republicans.
- Bracamontes, who is from Mexico, snuck into the United States and was arrested in 1996 for drug possession as part of a narcotics sting. He spent four months in the tent city erected by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio before he was released to immigration authorities. (Arpaio, of course, is known for his hard-line immigration policies and was pardoned by Trump last year after the former sheriff was convicted of ignoring a federal judge’s order.)
- Bracamontes was sentenced to three years' probation, but his sentence had barely begun when he was deported in 1997, when Bill Clinton was president.
- Bracamontes snuck back in the United States and was arrested again in 1998. Apparently he was not deported after being turned over to immigration authorities.
- Bracamontes was arrested in 2001 on drug and weapons charges, released by immigration authorities and then arrested again a few months later.
- Bracamontes was then deported a second time — in 2001, when George W. Bush was president.
- Bracamontes snuck back in the United States, and records show he was married in Maricopa County on Feb. 28, 2002. Bush was still president.
- Bracamontes moved to Utah under an assumed name and had a terrible driving record, earning 10 misdemeanor violations from 2003 to 2009. But he somehow escaped the notice of immigration authorities.
- Starting in 2008, under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Secure Communities program was launched and expanded. The program was intended to identify undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment and who may be eligible for deportation.
- In August 2011, three years before the murders of the California police officers, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s office recommended the court dismiss Bracamontes’ 2001 case. Attorneys said it was “in the best interest of the court.” Montgomery is a Republican.
- In 2014, Bracamontes and his wife went on a methamphetamine-fueled trip that resulted in the murders of the police officers and the subsequent convictions of Bracamontes, for the killings, and his wife, Janelle Monroy, for assisting him. In April, Bracamontes was sentenced to death.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump’s ad claims that Democrats let Bracamontes in and that they let him stay. But the reality is that he snuck over the border under both a Democratic (Clinton) and a Republican (Bush) and was deported under both presidents. He returned again when a Republican (Bush) was president. Then he remained in the country through Obama’s term — but it was a Republican local official who dropped the pending case.
Pinning the blame on any political party for Bracamontes’s killing spree is a fool’s game. No one let him in, and no one let him stay; he kept sneaking back in and escaped notice until he murdered the police officers.
The president earns Four Pinocchios.
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