CLEVELAND — Often overlooked in the immigration debate, the families of victims of illegal immigrant criminals got their biggest stage yet with prime-time speaking roles Monday at the Republican National Convention, where they pleaded for a firmer hand in the White House to keep the country safe.
“Only one candidate is serious about border security: Donald Trump,” said Kent Terry, brother of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. “He will give our heroic Border Patrol agents the resources and support needed to do their jobs. President Trump will make America’s borders secure again.”
Mr. Terry was joined on stage by two mothers and one father whose children were slain by illegal immigrants and who said it’s time their side of the immigration debate receives more attention.
Democrats will counter at their convention next week with a speech from an illegal immigrant Dreamer who was allowed to remain in the U.S. under President Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty policy. Democrats say the vast majority of illegal immigrants follow the laws except in the case of immigration, and say Dreamers in particular are leaders of the next generation of Americans.
That dichotomy — valedictorians versus victims — underscores the deep divisions within the U.S. over the contributions and pitfalls of America’s chaotic immigration policy.
“Hillary Clinton has pledged not to deport families or children, and Trump has pledged to crack down on criminal aliens who have stolen the lives of loved ones from these families, to try to prevent it from happening to anyone else. Voters have a clear choice: Do they want a president who gives a voice to illegal alien families, or American families?” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Victims of illegal immigrant crimes gained prominence last year after the death of Kate Steinle, a young woman slain as she walked along the San Francisco waterfront with her father. Her accused killer is an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and who was in the U.S. under protection of San Francisco’s policy as a sanctuary city.
Advocates of a crackdown point to a number of other cases, including that of Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son, a police officer in Mesa, Arizona, was killed when an illegal immigrant driving drunk the wrong way on a highway crashed into his car. The illegal immigrant in that case had been convicted of crimes but not deported.
Ms. Mendoza spoke Monday, as did Sabine Durden, whose son was killed in 2012 by an illegal immigrant driving a truck without a license, and by Jamiel Shaw, whose son was slain by a gang member who was released from jail 24 hours earlier despite a deportation hold by federal authorities.
Mr. Trump has made the Steinle case a national cause. Democrats accuse him of demagoguing the issue, and immigrant rights activists say he has strayed into racism with attacks on immigrants overall.
Reacting to news that Mr. Trump would reach out to Hispanic voters, Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group, said the effort was futile.
“We have a recommendation for the Trump campaign: Before he gets on his plane to share taco bowls with hand-selected supporters, he should denounce his radical immigration policy stances and give a sincere and abject apology for demonizing and dehumanizing Mexicans and other Latinos who contribute every day to their communities and country,” Mr. Sharry said.
Still, as the Republican National Convention opened Monday, some conservative Hispanic leaders who had resisted backing Mr. Trump announced that they were ready to endorse him. They said the recent spate of terrorist-inspired attacks and other shootings in the U.S. begged for the strong hand Mr. Trump could provide.
“We have, therefore, decided not only to vote for Donald Trump, but to actively campaign for his candidacy,” 14 Hispanic leaders said in an endorsement letter. “Too much is at stake for America for us to remain neutral on the sidelines.”
The signatories — including Alfonso Aguilar, head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, and Massey Villarreal, former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — had expressed reservations about Mr. Trump, saying he needed to show a willingness to bend on his immigration policy.
But in their letter, they said likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wouldn’t fix the broken immigration system and that Mr. Trump has, in their eyes, softened his stance in recent weeks.