On Wednesday, President Trump released an ad the media immediately labeled “racist”: an ad featuring the story of Luis Bracomontes, juxtaposed with images of the migrant caravan headed north through Mexico.
The ad features footage of Bracamontes, who received the death penalty for killing two police officers in 2014, grinning and bragging about his crime; the captions read, “Illegal immigrant, Luis Bracamontes, killed our people! Democrats let him into our country … Democrats let him stay.” Then the footage shifts to video of the migrant caravan breaking through the Mexican border, as well as footage of one migrant explaining via translator that he wants to apply for pardon for attempted murder.
Now, Trump isn’t the first person to raise questions about America’s immigration policy based on Bracamontes’ activity. In 2014, The New York Times did a complete story on Bracamontes’ case raising serious issues for the Obama White House:
The case could create a new problem for the Obama administration, as officials weigh steps the president could take after the Nov. 4 elections to expand protections from deportation for immigrants here illegally. Emerging details of the suspect’s history — he gave his second last name in court in Sacramento on Tuesday as Bracamontes, not Bracamonte — show that he crossed the southwest border at least twice in a wave of illegal immigration more than a decade ago, then used several aliases and stayed out of trouble just enough to elude detection as the Obama administration ramped up deportations in recent years and expanded systems to identify foreigners who committed crimes.
So, is the ad racist? It’s certainly racially charged, given the obvious juxtaposition between Bracamontes’ ethnic origins and the migrant caravan. There’s no evidence that Bracamontes was ever part of a migrant caravan, that the migrant caravan has criminals like Bracamontes, or that there’s really any connection at all between the two stories — other than the broad debate about border security and illegal immigration. Furthermore, Bracamontes is evidence of bipartisan immigration failure: he entered the country during the Clinton era, was deported in 1997, re-entered, and was deported under President Bush in 2001. He then re-entered the country and remained under both Bush and Obama, despite 10 misdemeanor violations between 2003 and 2009.
With that said, Trump’s broader argument in the ad is obvious: we don’t know who is coming into our country. Democrats don’t want to bother to find out; they want to retain catch-and-release policies that allow people to approach our border and then stay in the country illegally. We don’t know who is in the caravan, and that’s the point – there could be criminals in that caravan. Yet some Democrats seem intent on allowing nearly everyone from the caravan in without serious vetting.
Now, the suggestion is that Trump is only cutting this ad for racial purposes. Perhaps he is. But it’s a hard-hitting ad about illegal immigration across the U.S.’ southern border, and the problem of illegal immigrant crime. It would be difficult to make an ad without the people in the ad being from the regions with which the ad is concerned. And political spots are not known either for their subtlety or for their robust discussions of the issues.