Some Minnesota politicians Wednesday used the killing of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts to call for a crackdown on illegal immigration, although the attorney of the suspect in the case took issue with the prosecution's claims about his client's immigration status.
Iowa law enforcement officials said Tuesday that Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 24-year-old who had been living in the U.S. illegally, confessed to killing Mollie Tibbetts and led them to her remains.
They had been looking for the young woman for five weeks after her disappearance while out jogging. Rivera now faces murder charges.
Second District Republican Congressman Jason Lewis tweeted that Tibbetts' death is an "outrage that demands action" at the border.
Republican State Sen. Karin Housley, who's running against DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, called the crime a "preventable tragedy," and blamed "liberal Democrats and open border advocates."
'I'm not politicizing it," Housley said in an interview with MPR News. "I'm just pointing it out that we have a real issue with our immigration system here in the United States."
The Republican candidate for Minnesota attorney general, Doug Wardlow, also used the case to bring up the immigration issue and to criticize his DFL opponent.
"A broken immigration system allowed this murderer to end Mollie's life. It never should have happened," said Warlow in a statement. "We must do all we can to keep predator illegal immigrants off our streets. Democrat extremists like Keith Ellison advocate for open borders and sanctuary cities. These policies put the safety of America at risk."
President Donald Trump seized on the man's arrest on Tuesday to call the nation's immigration laws ``a disgrace'' that will only be fixed by electing more Republicans.
In a court document filed Wednesday, defense attorney Allan M. Richards stated that an employer has said Rivera has legal permission to be in the U.S.
The document named Craig Lang, a former head of the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the state's three public universities. Lang is co-owner of a dairy that employed Rivera and a prominent Republican who previously served as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. Rivera's immigration status was confirmed by an E-Verify electronic immigration status check, the Lang family said in a statement.
Richards sought a gag order and said comments about the case by Trump would "poison the entire possible pool of jury members.''
He also asked that the proceedings be closed.
"The government has weighed in at the highest levels with a predisposition that my client is guilty,'' he said.
DFL candidates responded Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Tina Smith issued this statement:
“This is an awful tragedy and my heart breaks for Mollie's family. I can imagine nothing worse than losing a child. The individual responsible for this heinous crime must be brought to justice and punished. There's no question that our immigration system is broken, which is why I have long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform--just like the bipartisan bill the Senate passed a few years ago. And since coming to the Senate, I have voted to increase funding for border security by more than $25 billion. I also believe we need better intelligence and more effective technology at the border. And we need to make sure reform includes a tough but fair path to citizenship for people who are in this country working, paying taxes, and contributing to our society.”
Angie Craig, the Democrat running against Lewis, sent this statement in an email.
"I am heartbroken for the family of Mollie Tibbetts and cannot imagine the anguish they are experiencing. We should be supporting this family, not subjecting them to politics. That is why I find it so outrageous that rather than solving problems — like our broken immigration system — Jason Lewis is politicizing this tragedy. But this is a pattern. Lewis has done nothing to ban the secret and unlimited donations that are drowning out the voices of Minnesotans and other Americans in our election system. He has also not worked to find a way to lower healthcare costs for people in Minnesota. We need leaders who are working to fix problems, not place blame.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.