Mollie Tibbetts’ father received a pre-recorded robocall from neo-Nazi organization “The Road to Power” expressing hate towards immigrants. The call used his daughter’s name and called her family traitors to their race. Shaken, he described the experience as “everything that’s dark and wrong with America.”
The robocalls are only one example of politicians and extremist groups using Tibbetts’ name to advocate for their own agendas. Tibbetts, a student at the University of Iowa, disappeared in July. Her body was eventually discovered, murdered by Christhian Rivera, a local Latino farmhand who was an illegal immigrant. Since then, Tibbetts’ death has become the poster child of Trump’s immigration policy efforts. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders mentioned Tibbetts in a press briefing, and President Donald Trump has often cited her death in Twitter posts as another reason to crack down on illegal immigration.
Tibbetts’ death is one of many catastrophes that have affected American politics. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, the school’s students began to advocate for tighter gun control. Their actions sparked a national awakening of student activism, encouraging more teenagers to act in solidarity with them. In this case, students actively participated in politics to express their message in the aftermath of the tragedy.
On the other hand, the Tibbetts family begs for the tragedy to be left out of the spotlight. While Tibbetts’ father encourages the debate regarding immigration, he urges politicians to leave her name out of it. He deplores the use of his daughter’s death to support racist ideals, and believes Tibbetts would be horrified by the racist backlash over her death, given that her own step-sister and nephew are Latino. Iowan Latinos have experienced discriminatory graffiti and faced racist remarks in the wake of Tibbetts’ death.
Although her death is a terrible tragedy, it should not be used to cause the suffering of millions of immigrants unrelated to her death, nor should it be used to torment her own family and increase their grief. The use of Tibbetts’ name for political purposes may not be racist, but it encourages neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups to use it for their own gain.
“I am absolutely against Mollie’s death becoming politicized when arguing about immigration. It is nitpicking a specific homicide and generalizing it throughout the whole U.S. Basically, it says that immigrants shouldn’t be coming to the U.S. because all, or at least a large majority of them, are murderers. That’s completely twisted and racist.” Sophomore Tobias Worledge said.
As a nation, America loses basic respect for the victims of tragedies by politicizing them. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman shooting, entering politics was a choice of the survivors. In the case of Tibbetts, it is the choice of outside parties to ignore the beliefs of her family. At the very least, the wishes of her own family must be respected. America cannot let Mollie Tibbetts become a “pawn in others’ debate.”