New York Times (Op-ed)
By Andy Ostroy
October 24, 2016
On Nov. 1, 2006, I found my wife, Adrienne Shelly, dead in her West Village office. Adrienne, an actor and filmmaker, had been brutally murdered by a 19-year-old undocumented Ecuadorean construction worker; he later said they were having an argument and, fearing she would report him and have him deported, he killed her and staged her death so it would appear to be a suicide. Our daughter was just 2 years old at the time.
Given the anger and grief I still feel, I could easily be seduced by Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric that is the cornerstone of his presidential run. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said as he began his campaign in 2015. And in these final weeks before the election, rather than tacking to the middle, he seems to be doubling down. “We’ve got some bad hombres,” he said in last week’s debate, referring to immigrants who commit crimes.
And it’s not just Mr. Trump. In the years since Adrienne’s murder I’ve received several offers from prominent members of the conservative media, including Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, to speak out on this issue and give legitimacy to right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment. Who better than a Democrat to attack an entire segment of our population, right?
But Adrienne was not murdered by an illegal immigrant, per se. She fell victim to a depraved killer who simply happened to be an undocumented immigrant. It is an obvious distinction, almost too obvious, but it’s an important one to consider as the country goes further down the dangerous path of demonizing those not born here.
At his rallies and during the debates, Mr. Trump has painted a dark picture of an America overrun by foreign criminals who come here to rape, pillage and murder our innocent civilians. He opposes any form of amnesty for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, taking a hard-line law-and-order stand that has brought millions of voters to his camp.
He uses murders like Adrienne’s — though never hers specifically, fortunately — as political props. His “solution” includes a deportation force that would separate people from their families and “send them back to wherever they came from.”
Adrienne’s killer, Diego Pillco, plea-bargained a murder conviction that sentenced him to 25 years with no parole and no ability to appeal. It was a tough case. He had no clear motive, and there were no witnesses to the crime. The district attorney’s office advised me to accept the deal rather than go to trial. It was an agonizing decision: roll the dice for a life sentence or possibly end up with a manslaughter conviction, with her killer receiving a meager three to five years in prison.
We took the deal. It was, simply, a business decision, albeit one with a hefty emotional price tag. Her killer will be deported upon his release, walking this earth a free man at 44 years old, while Adrienne’s vibrant life was snuffed out at 40.
His reason for killing Adrienne, and the relatively lenient sentence he received, certainly feeds Mr. Trump’s xenophobic, fear-mongering narrative. But beyond the rhetoric, there’s no clear cause and effect. His rationale was no different from that of an American citizen who in the act of a crime kills his “witness” to avoid prosecution and imprisonment. Attributing his heinous act to his immigration status dilutes the more relevant truth that he lacked the ability to know right from wrong and had zero respect for human life.
Yes, we have an immigration problem that is in desperate need of reform. Yes, some illegal immigrants commit crimes, some of them violent. But so do blacks, whites, Asians, Christians and Jews. Mr. Trump often claims that two million undocumented immigrants have been convicted of crimes, but in fact the figure is actually 176,000, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The reality is, Americans have appreciably more to fear from their fellow citizens than from undocumented immigrants.
It’s politically expedient for xenophobic agitators like Mr. Trump to scapegoat the millions of foreigners who have come to the United States in search of a better life. But his malevolence toward immigrants runs counter to the principles on which our great nation was founded. It’s disheartening to see so many people being swept out to sea in a riptide of ignorance and hate.
America was created by, is governed by and — with the exception of Native Americans — is inhabited by immigrants and their descendants, generations of whom came here to escape religious and ethnic persecution. That millions of people face a similar fate on our soil is deplorable. We should be thanking them, as America’s greatness is attributed to their blood, sweat, vision, perseverance, dedication and brilliance.
While I believe that the country must do more to secure its borders, deport noncitizen criminals and protect Americans from foreign terrorists, I also believe we must find a realistic, humane path to citizenship for the millions of decent, hard-working immigrants who love this country as much as I do, regardless of whether they are documented or not. We need the kind of compassionate reform that Democrats have been advocating for decades in the face of persistent Republican obstructionism.
That is what Adrienne would want.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com