In photos, Jimena certainly does not look like MS-13, the truly vicious Salvadoran criminal gang that Trump’s rhetoric has used to make us afraid of all illegal immigrants.
MS-13 is a transnational gang of about 30,000 members, most of them in Central America, with about 6,000 in the United States, which is where the gang began before many of its leaders were deported back to El Salvador.
Trump’s repeated references to MS-13 in his speeches and tweets indicate an intention to make the gang into a Willie Horton for this year’s midterms and his own re-election campaign, which appears already to have begun.
Horton, you may recall, was a Massachusetts prison inmate who raped a woman and assaulted her fiancé after walking away from a furlough program. He became nationally infamous when supporters of Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988 launched attack ads against Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Although the furlough program was initiated by his predecessor, Dukakis was tagged by the Grand Old Party with running a “revolving door” prison system.
In political circles, the term “Willie Horton campaign” came to mean any similarly coded appeal to racial anxieties — Horton was black and his victims were white — to smear an opponent as being soft on crime.
Talk of a Horton-style campaign returned when Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, ran ads that tried to brand Democrat Ralph Northam as soft on MS-13 and unlawful immigration.
In the end, Gillespie lost, despite his tough-on-crime stance.
But the more we take the time to see, meet and learn about real immigrants, the more we learn that — legal or otherwise — they tend statistically to make more productive citizens than native-born Americans.
They start more businesses, they have higher church attendance, they are less likely to have children outside of marriage and they are much less likely to commit crime.
For years I have been writing that Republicans should take the immigration issue as an opportunity to reach out to Hispanic and other minority voters, as the party’s autopsy of its 2012 losses advised. Donald Trump came along instead and fanned the flames of racial and ethnic anger, fears, resentments and suspicions.
Writes for Tribune Content Agency.