State, federal officials call for immigration reform after Mollie Tibbetts’ death

This undated photo provided by the Iowa Department of Public Safety shows Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Authorities said on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, that they have charged a man living in the U.S. illegally with murder in the death of Iowa college student, Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared a month ago while jogging in a rural area. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Rick Rahn said that Rivera, 24, was charged with murder in the death of Tibbetts. (Iowa Department of Public Safety via AP)


Gov. Kim Reynolds quickly denounced a broken immigration system after authorities reported the death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts and the subsequent arrest of an undocumented immigrant.

Authorities announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, is charged with first-degree murder of Tibbetts, who had been missing for more than a month. The college student’s body was believed to have been discovered Tuesday near her hometown of Brooklyn.

“I spoke with Mollie’s family and passed on the heartfelt condolences of a grieving state,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I shared with them my hope that they can find comfort knowing that God does not leave us to suffer alone. Even in our darkest moments, he will comfort and heal our broken hearts.”

Reynolds also targeted immigration policy as a factor in the killing.

“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry,” Reynolds said. “We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”

U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst also offered condolences and referenced immigration in a joint statement about the developments in the case.

“No family should ever have to endure such a tragedy, especially one that could have been prevented …” Grassley and Ernst said. “Too many Iowans have been lost at the hands of criminals who broke our immigration laws. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue.”

Ernst introduced and Grassley co-sponsored Sarah’s Law, legislation named in honor of another young Iowa woman, Sarah Root, who was killed in 2016 by an undocumented immigrant.

Sarah’s Law would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take custody of an individual who is in the country illegally and is charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, Grassley and Ernst said. It would also amend the mandatory detention provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to require the federal government to take custody of anyone who entered the country illegally, violated the terms of their immigration status or had their visa revoked and is later charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.

Joa LaVille, who founded Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown – a nonprofit which aims to strenthen the community by embracing diversity – said now is a time to be careful about discussions about immigration.

“Right now, we are grieving with our fellow Iowans and we feel our thoughts belong first and foremost with the family experiencing this enormous loss, with prayers for healing and for justice,” said LaVille and Maria Gonzalez, co-leader of the group, in a statement. “In the days to come, we will have more to say if an entire community is blamed for the accusations against one individual.”

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, who visited Marshalltown Tuesday afternoon, said the news of Tibbetts’ death impacted both him and his wife. He represents Iowa’s First Congressional District, which includes Poweshiek County and the city of Brooklyn.

“I’m a parent,” Blum said. “I can’t imagine the parents, what they have to go through … it just has to be the worst thing you can think of as a parent, for that to happen.”