Politics

What we know: Trump uses death of Michigan woman to stoke fears over immigration

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — (AP) — During campaign events in Michigan and Wisconsin on Tuesday, Donald Trump used the recent death of a Grand Rapids woman killed by a man who immigration officials say entered the country illegally to amplify his inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail accusing President Joe Biden of causing a "bloodbath" at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The woman, 25-year-old Ruby Garcia, was found dead on the side of a Grand Rapids highway on March 22. Police say she was in a romantic relationship with the suspect, Brandon Ortiz-Vite, who is a citizen of Mexico.

Immigration has emerged as the focal point of Trump's reelection campaign. He frequently highlights incidents involving immigrants to fuel concerns about Biden's border policies and on Tuesday attempted to tie Garcia's death to that of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student who officials say was killed by a man who entered the U.S. illegally.

While authorities believe Riley’s death was random, Garcia’s case is different.

Here's what we know and where Trump's claims strayed from the truth.

The death of Ruby Garcia

Trump's campaign has said that Garcia was killed by an immigrant “in a drunken carjacking attempt.” This conveys a sense of randomness that isn't supported by facts.

On the night of March 22, a Grand Rapids police officer discovered Garcia on the side of a highway in Grand Rapids with multiple gunshot wounds to the head.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Ortiz-Vite told authorities that he shot Garcia multiple times during an argument while inside her car. He then exited the passenger side, walked around the rear of the car and opened the driver’s door. He said he shot her once more because he believed she was still alive. He then pulled her from the car and drove away.

Ortiz-Vite has since been charged with felony murder, open murder, carjacking, carrying a concealed weapon and felony firearm possession. He was arrested with a 9mm Taurus pistol, which Ortiz-Vite said he had used to shoot Garcia and that he had “purchased it illegally," according to the affidavit.

Authorities say Garcia and Ortiz-Vite were in a “romantic relationship." Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said in announcing the charges that "this is another case of a domestic violence homicide that we’ve seen, quite frankly, far too often over the last few years."

The killing received minimal attention until a conservative media outlet began reporting that Ortiz-Vite was an “illegal immigrant.” Republicans across Michigan began citing the case to highlight issues at the southern border. Soon after, Trump announced that he would travel to Grand Rapids for a campaign event.

Trump initially correctly referred to Garcia as a 25-year-old on Tuesday before later saying that she was a 17-year-old. He also said that his administration had thrown Ortiz-Vite "out of the country and crooked Joe Biden took him back and let him back in and let him stay in and he viciously killed Ruby.”

But Trump has no way of knowing whether Ortiz-Vite returned to the U.S. on Biden's watch or his own. Ortiz-Vite had been deported in September 2020 following a drunk driving arrest, a little over a year after his status with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program expired, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration officials don't know whether Ortiz-Vite reentered the country in the final months of Trump's presidency or during Biden's tenure.

“At an unknown date and location Ortiz-Vite reentered the United States without inspection by an immigration official,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.

Flanked by sheriffs and Republican officials, Trump asserted on Tuesday that Garcia’s death was a direct result of Biden’s border policies. He added that Garcia's “loved ones and community are left grieving for this incredible young woman.”

“When she walked into a room, she lit up that room and I’ve heard that from so many people," said Trump. "I spoke to some of her family.”

Ruby's sister, Mavi, who has become the spokesperson for the family, has disputed the former president's account, telling multiple outlets that neither Trump nor anybody from his campaign has contacted anybody in her immediate family.

"It was shocking. I kind of stopped watching it. I'd only seen up to that — after I heard a couple of misinformations he said, I just stopped watching it," Mavi Garcia told WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.

At the event, a Trump spokesperson could not identify who the former president had spoken with in the Garcia family. The campaign has not clarified since.

“The mainstream media is abhorrent for spending more time nitpicking President Trump’s words and obsessing over his ‘rhetoric’ than writing about the heinous crimes committed by Joe Biden’s illegal immigrants, like the one who killed Ruby Garcia,” said Trump’s national press secretary Karoline Leavitt in a statement.

Trump told conservative Michigan radio host Justin Barclay on Monday that he’d like the Garcia family to be at his event and asked Barclay to coordinate with them. Barclay told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had not been in communication with the family.

"It’s always been about illegal immigrants,” Mavi Garcia told WOOD-TV. “Nobody really speaks about when Americans do heinous crimes, and it’s kind of shocking why he would just bring up illegals. What about Americans who do heinous crimes like that?”

Immigrant crimes

Michigan Republicans have tried to link Garcia's death to other crimes reportedly committed by immigrants to indicate a concerning trend. Trump on Tuesday mentioned a string of robberies in Oakland County homes authorities said were orchestrated by "transnational gangs " and also the death of 22-year-old Leah Marie Gomez.

Gomez was killed in Grand Rapids last year by the father of her 1-year-old child, Mexican national Luis Bernal-Sosa. Gomez was sitting in her car with her daughter when Bernal-Sosa shot her multiple times, according to police.

“One is a tragedy, two is a trend. West Michigan is not going to accept illegal immigrants making us feel unsafe in our community,” said Michigan GOP chair Pete Hoekstra last week.

But while Republicans have highlighted these high-profile crimes reportedly committed by individuals in the country illegally, the most recent FBI statistics reveal a continued decline in overall violent crime in the U.S., following a temporary increase during the pandemic.

Many studies have found immigrants are less likely to commit violent crime than native-born citizens. One published by the National Academy of Sciences, based on Texas Department of Public Safety data from 2012 to 2018, reported native-born U.S. residents were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally.

The argument from Democrats

Democrats have pointed to a bipartisan compromise to shore up border security that Trump helped derail by letting House Republicans know he opposed it.

"There was a solution on the table. It was actually the former president that encouraged Republicans to walk away from getting it done,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said Monday. “I don’t have a lot of tolerance for political points when it continues to endanger our economy and, to some extent, our people as we saw play out in Grand Rapids recently.”

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed from New York.

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