In the continued fallout over the murder of an Iowa college student, allegedly at the hands of a Mexican man, advisers to President Trump joined “Angel Families” at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Friday to draw attention to crime committed by illegal immigrants.
“You will never be silenced, and your loved ones will never be forgotten,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told families. “Here’s the truth: open borders leads to massive crime. And massive crime that is totally avoidable.”
Others at the rally included former White House deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently lost his Republican bid for the U.S. Senate in Arizona.
“I also will never forget the names of these individuals, whether it’s Mollie Tibbetts or it's Kate Steinle,” Gorka said.
Tibbetts went missing after going for a jog in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18. Police in August arrested a 24-year old illegal immigrant from Mexico and charged him with her murder.
Steinle was shot to death on Pier 14 in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant in July 2015. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who had had been deported five times, was acquitted of Steinle’s murder in 2017 after arguing he shot her by accident.
Trump has highlighted both cases, as he pushes for tougher measures to prevent illegal immigration. Democrats, some of whom are pushing to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, accuse Trump of exploiting isolated incidents.
More than 10 “Angel Families” - those whose family members were killed by illegal immigrants - were among the dozens in attendance at the rally.
Several speakers recounted stories of how their family members were killed, and spoke of the danger of sanctuary cities, arguing illegal immigrant crime can be prevented by securing the border.
“My daughter Sarah Root was killed less than 24 hours after graduating from Bellevue University,” said Michelle Root, one of the founders of the “Angel Families” organization.
Root said her 21-year-old daughter was on her way home after celebrating her graduation with friends on Jan 31, 2016. Sarah was stopped at a light in Omaha, Nebraska when an illegal immigrant rear-ended her car at a high speed, killing her. Root said the suspect posted bond, but fled before trial.
“He is still on the loose,” Root said. “We are still trying to find him to get justice for our daughter, and to prevent him from killing somebody else’s family.”
Mary Ann Mendoza of Arizona told the story of how her son, Brandon, a police officer who was killed by an illegal immigrant in a head-on collision in May 2014 in Phoenix.
“It’s important that our fellow Americans know the magnitude of crimes that are being committed,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza issued a warning to those watching, saying it’s a real “problem.”
“You are going to know somebody – a friend, a family member who is going to be affected by illegal [immigrant] crime in the future,” she said. “It’s inevitable.”
Neither the Tibbetts nor Steinle families attended the rally. Tibbetts father, Rob Tibbetts, recently pleaded with politicians to “leave us out of your debate,” saying, “I’m imploring you to stop.”
“Allow us to grieve in privacy and with dignity,” Tibbetts wrote last week in the Des Moines Register.