National News

How a Football Player’s Death Turned Into a Political Exhibit

Posted February 6, 2018 8:44 p.m. EST

The driver was drunk, the police said, his blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit. One of his victims was an NFL linebacker who was just reaching his prime.

But on Tuesday, two days after the crash, it was the driver’s immigration status that moved President Donald Trump to post his first tweet of the morning:

“So disgraceful that a person illegally in our country killed @Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson. This is just one of many such preventable tragedies. We must get the Dems to get tough on the Border, and with illegal immigration, FAST!”

Decades of research have shown that immigrants are less prone to commit crimes and to be incarcerated than people born in the United States. But Trump has been using individual criminal cases to advance an argument that illegal immigration, as well as many forms of legal immigration, is dangerous to Americans and must be curbed.

Now the White House and some Republicans in Congress are arguing that any deal to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation must include provisions to tighten border security and roll back some types of legal immigration.

Here’s how one death became part of that debate.

A Roadside Tragedy

Jackson, who was from Atlanta, was the Indianapolis Colts’ third-leading tackler of the 2016 season before sitting out 2017 with an injury. He was riding in an Uber car driven by the crash’s second victim, Jeffrey Monroe, who was from nearby Avon, Indiana.

The car had stopped along the side of Interstate 70 in Indianapolis so Monroe could get out to help Jackson, who was sick, when Manuel Orrego-Savala’s Ford truck drove onto the emergency shoulder and plowed into them, the Indiana State Police said. He struck both men, heaving one of their bodies into the highway’s center lane.

When a state trooper saw the wreckage on the side of the road shortly after, he headed toward the crash, hitting the man lying in the middle of the highway in the process, the police said. (The police did not say which man the trooper struck.)

Monroe, 54, and Jackson, 26, were pronounced dead at the scene. Orrego-Savala was arrested as he tried to flee on foot.

The state police said that Orrego-Savala was living in the United States illegally, having been deported to Guatemala twice before. He had been convicted of driving under the influence in California in 2005, and his record also showed “many other” misdemeanor convictions and arrests in Indiana and California, said Nicole Alberico, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal immigration agency.

ICE asked the county jail where Orrego-Savala, who was using the alias Alex Cabrera Gonsales, was being held to continue detaining him for federal immigration agents. But he is likely to be prosecuted first for causing the fatal crash, and federal prosecutors may also seek to charge him with illegally re-entering the country after being deported.

A Growing List

The Trump administration regularly highlights crimes committed by immigrants, especially those who came here in ways Trump has vowed to curtail. Last week, Trump used the State of the Union address to warn of the dangers of MS-13, a gang associated with young Central American migrants, drawing criticism that he had, once again, made immigrants out to be little more than criminals.

Besides a border wall and other measures to discourage illegal immigration, the president wants to curb two forms of legal immigration. He wants to end the diversity visa lottery, which offers people from countries that do not normally send large numbers of immigrants to the United States a chance at a green card, regardless of whether they have special skills or relatives in the United States. He also wants to restrict family-based immigration, the system that has given millions of visas to relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in favor of a more merit-based system.

In January, the administration released a report purporting to show that the vast majority of people convicted of international terrorism-related charges since Sept. 11, 2001, were foreign-born. It took pains to highlight cases in which such people came to the country through the diversity visa lottery or because they were related to a U.S. citizen or legal resident. But parts of the report were misleading, and Democrats and others who support immigration were quick to dismiss it for its political tinge.

Last week, in a news release that began with the words, “Our current immigration system jeopardizes our national security and puts American communities at risk,” the White House listed 15 people accused or convicted of terrorism-related crimes who it said had arrived through the diversity visa lottery or family ties.

The list included two others whose immigration records Trump amplified on Twitter: Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi-born immigrant who tried to detonate a pipe bomb in the New York subway in December, and Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who killed eight people in a bike lane on the West Side of Manhattan in October.

What Research Shows

Several studies, conducted over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States and much less likely to be in prison than those born in the United States.

Homeland Security officials have estimated that about 1.9 million noncitizens living in the country, whether legally or illegally, have been convicted of crimes. About 820,000 of those people may be in the country illegally, including about 300,000 with felony convictions, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research group that has opposed Trump’s proposals to cut immigration.

Experts say the evidence does not show that immigrants are more dangerous than native-born Americans. Among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States, according to census data, although that proportion rises significantly when only federal inmates are counted. Yet about one-third of noncitizen federal inmates are serving time only for immigration-related offenses, such as slipping back into the country after being deported.

But for those who support restricting immigration, another question is whether current immigration laws leave the country vulnerable. Opponents of the diversity visa lottery often cite a report the State Department’s inspector general issued in 2003, which concluded that the program could be granting green cards to spies, criminals and terrorists. An Emotional Pull

During the presidential campaign, Trump often told the stories of family members of people killed by unauthorized immigrants, who argue that their relatives would still be alive if immigrants were not allowed to come illegally to the United States in the first place. Trump made the case of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot to death by an unauthorized immigrant in San Francisco in 2015, into a byword for the dangers of unchecked immigration. After the man who shot her, who claimed it was an accident, was acquitted of manslaughter in November, Trump renewed his call for the wall.

Some of the most vocal family members have continued to press their cause in Washington, where one such group, Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime, was meeting with several members of Congress on Tuesday. They said they were planning to mention Jackson’s death in their conversations.

Mary Ann Mendoza, the mother of a police officer killed in a drunken-driving crash with an unauthorized immigrant in 2014, said the group was trying to reach Jackson’s family to offer support.

Jackson’s roommate, Chad Bouchez, who said he had been out with Jackson the night he died, told CBS News that he did not believe Jackson would have wanted his death politicized.

“I don’t think Edwin would have judged anyone on where they were from or anything else,” he said.