As Scott Shackford noted here, Donald Trump has released an unmistakably nativist, racist ad depicting Latino illegal immigrants as insane cop killers whom Democrats allow to freely roam the country at murderous will. Here's the ad the president tweeted:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2018
Shackford's main point was that Luis Bracamontes, who now sits on death row in California, is in no way representative of illegal immigrants, much less legal ones. Immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans, among other things. Using anomalous cases to make a policy point—and it's a stretch to call Trump's fact-free ravings on immigration "policy"—is never a good idea.
There's another problem with this specific ad. Trump is using Bracamontes' various crimes and delayed punishment to own his political opponents. At one point, the ad declares in all-caps hysteria, "DEMOCRATS LET HIM STAY." At another, it asks, "WHO ELSE WOULD DEMOCRATS LET IN?", stoking fears that the migrant caravan on its way from Central America, and other people crossing the border with Mexico, are barbarians shuffling toward the gate.
Well, put this in your pipe and smoke it: The Sacramento Bee reports that Bracamontes first entered the country in 1993, when Democratic Pres. Bill Clinton was in office. He was arrested, served time, and deported in 1997 (Clinton and the Democrats were extremely hostile to illegal immigration, building parts of their 1996 campaign platform around the theme of militarizing the border).
In any case, Bracamonte showed up again in the Phoenix area, where a Republican guy named Sheriff Joe Arpaio was running the scene:
Records in Arizona show he was arrested on drug charges again in Phoenix in 1998, then released "for reasons unknown" by Arpaio's office. Arpaio is a Republican.
Bracamontes was next arrested May 4, 2001, on marijuana charges in Maricopa County, and deported three days later. Republican George W. Bush was president at the time, and was president when Bracamontes slipped back into the United States a short time later.
The date of his re-entry is not clear, but records show Bracamontes was married in Maricopa County on Feb. 28, 2002, when Bush was president.
So that ad Trump is touting could just as easily say "REPUBLICANS LET HIM STAY" and "WHO ELSE DID SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO LET GO?" Last year, Arpaio was pardoned by the president after being found guilty of contempt of court for flouting a federal order to stop "the unconstitutional racial profiling and detainment of Latino residents."
To return to Shackford's original point: We shouldn't be using outliers and extreme cases when discussing immigration, much less building policy around such people. Perhaps more than on any other issue, we need a different conversation about immigration, legal and otherwise. President Trump has shown time and again that he lacks any command even of basic facts and legal processes (his contention that he can end birthright citizenship, a constitutional right, by executive order is just the most-recent example of this ignorance). Virtually all the main arguments against immigration (legal or illegal) are predicated upon half-facts, misrepresentations, and outright falsehoods. That doesn't mean the only defensible position is a libertarian version of open borders, in which people who want to live and work here peacefully and legally should generally be allowed to after a background check.
And here's something for restrictionists to ponder: Whatever you think you're accomplishing by demonizing immigrants, including the migrant caravan (that doesn't include scores of ISIS operatives), you're doing it wrong. Since Donald Trump became president, in part by attacking Mexicans and others, a record-high number of Americans think immigration is a good thing. That includes 65 percent of self-identified Republicans. Nativism may win you a safe seat in Congress, but you're losing the bigger battle due to strident, over-the-top, and non-realistic rhetoric about the people who move here to have a better life.
In any case, we'd have much more productive discussions if we began talking honestly about the history and contemporary reality of immigration. That's something the president and his defenders resolutely refuse to do.