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Republican lawmakers, Trump blame immigration laws for Mollie Tibbetts' death

Posted at 8:07 PM, Aug 21, 2018

After an undocumented immigrant was arrested Tuesday in the presumed death of Mollie Tibbetts, President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers blamed the tragedy on the nation's immigration laws.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, is being held on a first-degree murder charge in the case of Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa college student who was last seen jogging in Brooklyn, east of Des Moines, more than five weeks ago.

He faces life in prison without parole if convicted.


Rivera told police he followed Tibbetts with his car and pursued her when she started running away, said Rick Rahn, special agent in charge at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Rivera is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency sent a detainer request for Rivera to local authorities Tuesday, said Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman.

Authorities said Rivera was employed but couldn't immediately say what he did for a living. Rivera has been in the area for four to seven years, Rahn said.

"I can't really speak to you about the motive," Rahn said. "I can just tell you it seems that he followed her and seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day and for whatever reason, he chose to abduct her."

Hours after the arrest was announced, the case started to emerge as yet another rallying point for Republican lawmakers and others who advocate for more restrictive immigration laws.

At a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, President Trump referred to Tibbetts' death -- which hasn't officially been confirmed -- and called the nation's immigration laws "a disgrace."

"You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico," he said. "And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman," President Trump said.

"Should have never happened. Illegally in our country," Trump said. "We've had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We're getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans."

Trump has often suggested, erroneously, that undocumented immigrants are more dangerous than US citizens.

Democrats and immigration advocates have said that by focusing on outlier criminal cases, Republicans and Trump are distorting the fact that immigrants are no more prone to criminal acts than the native-born population -- and some studies have found they are actually less likely to commit crimes.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said residents "are heartbroken, and we are angry" about what happened to Tibbetts.

"We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie's killer," Reynolds said in statement.

Vice President Mike Pence said he was "heartbroken" by the news.

"We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who's now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts," Pence said.