Mollie Tibbetts, R.I.P.

The role of immigration policy failures

By Mark Krikorian on August 24, 2018

National Review, August 24, 2018

How responsible is immigration policy for Mollie Tibbetts's murder?

The chief culprit, obviously, is the murderer himself, Mexican illegal alien Cristhian Rivera (if that's even his real name). But immigration control is one of the elemental responsibilities of the national government, and it failed in this case. As Sen. Tom Cotton put it: "Mollie would be alive if our government had taken immigration enforcement seriously years ago."

But there are different levels of culpability. The government bears the greatest share of blame when the authorities have an illegal alien in custody, they know he's deportable, they release him anyway, and he goes on to commit more crimes. For example, it's not too much to say that the elected and appointed officials of San Francisco were accomplices in the deaths of Kate Steinle and the Bologna family because of that city's sanctuary policies.

The least share of responsibility would accrue to our immigration policies if an alien managed to infiltrate the country undetected and then had no interactions with government or any other institutions of our society before committing his crime. Given how unserious we are about immigration enforcement, our policies would still warrant a share of the blame, but the responsibility would be more diffuse and indirect.

The Tibbetts murder falls somewhere in between. Unlike the killers of Steinle, the Bolognas, Menachem Stark, Jamiel Shaw II, Drew Rosenberg, Grant Ronnebeck, Reginald Destin, and others, Tibbetts's killer was not shielded by a sanctuary jurisdiction and is not believed to have been previously arrested and released (though we may learn more in the coming days).

On the other hand, Tibbetts's killer is reported to have lived in the United States for seven years, from age 17, and worked at an Iowa dairy farm for four of those years. He worked on the books, having used a stolen identity to get past the Social Security–number check (not E-Verify) used by his employer. His lawyer said that the killer "diligently filed tax returns legally with the IRS." He had a car registered in someone else's name and managed to drive for years without a license. He had a child with a high-school classmate of Tibbetts's, meaning he was presumably listed as the father on the birth certificate.

That's a lot of interaction with our institutions. That an illegal alien can do all that — for years — without raising a red flag represents a profound failure of policy. For instance: He used someone else's identity to get the dairy-farm job — was the rightful owner of that identity notified when his Social Security number was used to check employment eligibility? If I make a change online to my bank account, I receive an email notifying me of the change so that if it was done improperly I can alert the bank. There is no such notification for the use of our most important personal identifiers, and the Social Security Administration resists the very suggestion of coordination with the immigration authorities to identify illegal aliens in the work force.

The killer filed tax returns, presumably using the stolen identity. Was the victim of this identity theft notified that another tax return was being filed in his name? Again, no — the IRS refuses cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, even when it knows the filer is an illegal alien (as when a filer provides an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number on the tax return but has a different, stolen number on the W-2 form).

Given that he had a steady, on-the-books job, the killer probably had a bank account. Banks have to comply with a variety of federal "know your customer" regulations, but verifying the authenticity of the killer's documents (reportedly including an out-of-state non-driver ID) apparently was not one of them.

None of these gaps that allowed Mollie Tibbetts's killer to live here illegally for years is the fault of a lazy bureaucrat or an inattentive police officer. They are the result of policy choices that weaken our immigration security and enable someone like the killer to remain here with impunity.

Some fixes:

  • I'm not a wall enthusiast, but it remains too easy to surreptitiously cross the border with Mexico. Just this week a caravan of 128 Mexicans and Central Americans, including young children, crossed en masse in Arizona because the border was marked only with three-foot-high vehicle barriers designed to stop cars but not people.
  • Require systematic, built-in, ongoing cooperation between DHS, SSA, and IRS. There is no excuse for one hand of the federal government not knowing — not being allowed to know — what the other is doing.
  • Mandate E-Verify for all new hires. To root out identity theft, the E-Verify bill in the House would require that people be notified when their Social Security number was used for employment.
  • Require as a condition of receiving federal highway funds that all state DMVs participate in E-Verify's RIDE program, which authenticates driver's licenses or non-driver state IDs presented for employment.

As David French noted yesterday, "While no border can be perfectly guarded, we can do better. We simply choose not to." That choice probably cost a young girl her life. And that's our fault.