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When Trump's anti-immigrant fear-mongering crosses a line

Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez died in November in what appeared to be an accident. Donald Trump, however, saw an anti-immigrant opportunity.
Donald Trump
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the airport for a visit to the U.S. Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, Thursday, July 23, 2015.

That Donald Trump and his operation want to create public fear of immigrants is not in dispute. What needs to be considered is how far the president and his team are prepared to go in pursuit of this goal.

We know, for example, about the Trump administration's Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. We also know how dangerously ridiculous the VOICE initiative has been.

Last week, as the Washington Post  noted, these efforts took an additional step when the Director of Surrogate & Coalitions Outreach for the Office of Communications at the White House sent an email to reporters. The message described itself as an "Immigration Crime Stories Round Up," purporting to show evidence of immigrants committing crimes.

One of the crimes listed in the "round-up" was an incident in Maryland "that is not clearly connected to immigrants."

But to fully appreciate the depravity behind Trump World's ugly campaign, it's worth reflecting Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, who died in November in what appeared to be an accident. As Dana Milbank explained, Trump and his allies saw Martinez's death as "an opportunity to whip up anti-immigrant fervor."

The public-relations push started at a November cabinet meeting, when Trump argued for the cameras that "we lost a Border Patrol officer just yesterday, and another one was brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt.... We're going to have the wall." A tweet soon followed.

Other Republicans joined in. Fox News told its viewers that the border patrol agent was "brutally murdered," "ambushed by illegal immigrants," and attacked "in the most gruesome possible way."

We now know the evidence doesn't support these claims. From Milbank's piece:

The FBI swung into action, mobilizing 37 field offices, and this week it announced its findings. Although the investigation "has not conclusively determined" what happened, "none of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack on November 18, 2017."Compared with the original allegations, the findings got little attention. There was no corrective tweet from Trump or the others and no retraction by Fox News, which buried the FBI's findings with brief mention.

The relevant facts weren't part of the Republicans' agenda, so in classic drive-by fashion, the anti-immigration campaign simply moved on, hoping people heard the allegations, but not the evidence.

No good can come of this.

Over the summer, the president declared, “When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts… Before I make a statement, I need the facts.” More recently, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Trump “believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact.”