On Sunday, two tragedies played out across the country at the hands of impaired drivers — one in Indianapolis, the other in Miami Beach.
Only one made national headlines. On Tuesday, starting with tweets of condemnation and condolence by President Donald Trump, it became the launch point for a day filled with rhetoric about criminals crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
But both tragedies left bereft families — and irreparable losses.
In Indianapolis, Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and his Uber driver were killed at 4 a.m. on the side of a highway after Jackson felt sick, the driver pulled over, and they both got out of the car.
A Ford F-150 allegedly driven by Manuel Orrego-Savala, a Guatemalan who had been deported twice from the United States in 2007 and 2009, struck them. Indiana State Police say Orrego-Savala bolted from the scene, and when caught, gave a false name. Orrego-Savala, 37, is suspected of driving drunk; he had a previous DUI conviction in California.
“So disgraceful that a person illegally in our country killed @Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson,” Trump tweeted at 8:32 a.m. “This is just one of many such preventable tragedies. We must get the Dems to get tough on the Border, and with illegal immigration, FAST!”
Five minutes later, after thousands had “loved” and retweeted his message, Trump again tweeted: “My prayers and best wishes are with the family of Edwin Jackson, a wonderful young man whose life was so senselessly taken. @Colts.”
The president was actually late to the story of the death of a loved young man teammates and fans called “Pound Cake.” Shortly after the news broke, Trump supporters began sending me Indiana news reports to show me that “this” is what I’m defending when I write about the plight of hardworking, meritorious undocumented immigrants.
Is it fair to pass judgment on a class of people for one man’s criminal behavior?
Of course not. But Tuesday — as another budget deadline loomed and Congress debated immigration reform — was the perfect day for Trump to anoint a poster boy for illegal immigration. By afternoon, C-SPAN was televising a Trump roundtable on the MS-13 gangs from El Salvador plaguing Suffolk County on Long Island, and every Republican official around the table was begging him to build the wall and pass more Draconian measures curtailing legal and illegal immigration than Trump has already thought of himself.
Meanwhile, quite the different narrative played out with an allegedly impaired driver in Miami Beach.
On Sunday afternoon, Matthew Timothy Miller of Daytona Beach, suspected of drunk, drugged driving or both, slammed into five people on a South Beach sidewalk, gravely injuring twins who were only a month old. Both are hospitalized in critical condition. One is barely hanging on to life.
Miller’s driver’s license had been suspended. He has a record of unpaid traffic tickets and previous arrests for drug possession and theft. He told police he had taken the painkiller Percocet. But he refused a blood test and asked for a lawyer.
In court, he was disrespectful to the judge — and showed not an ounce of remorse for driving his 2012 Mercedes-Benz into two babies.
He deserves a special place in hell, but he got a $250,000 bond.
He didn’t become the poster boy for young white men from Daytona — nor did the peanut gallery and leaders in town start pounding the message on the internet: We need to get white trash off our streets.
It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the law-abiding people of Daytona Beach.
And Miller hasn’t become the poster boy for the opioid epidemic, an issue so problematic in Miller’s hometown that Florida’s surgeon general is expected to address it in a speech there on Friday.
Yet, every time an undocumented person in the country commits a crime — even when statistics show that the immigrant community has a much lower crime rate than the rest of the U.S. population — a crescendo of voices rises in righteous indignation. They clamor for justice that gives innocent people the boot.
They pounce on immigration status to justify prejudice.
Fabiola Santiago is a Miami Herald columnist.
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