Since authorities revealed the suspect in the killing of Mollie Tibbetts is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Iowa's Latino communities have been the target of rising anti-immigrant sentiment.
But the father of the late 20-year-old college student has had enough. He's spoken out, and he has a message: Don't exploit my daughter's death to promote a racist agenda.
"I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome," Tibbetts wrote in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register on Saturday. "But do not appropriate Mollie's soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist."
Mollie Tibbetts disappeared during an evening jog in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18. After her body was discovered last month, authorities identified the suspect in her killing as an undocumented immigrant.
Several politicians and pundits used the news to make political arguments about immigration law, but many stopped after a plea from the family, Tibbetts said in the op-ed.
"Sadly, others have ignored our request," he wrote. "They have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie's tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed."
Tibbetts doesn't want to see his daughter used as a "pawn in others' debate," he said.
"She may not be able to speak for herself, but I can and will. Please leave us out of your debate. Allow us to grieve in privacy and with dignity. At long last, show some decency. On behalf of my family and Mollie's memory, I'm imploring you to stop."
A message for the Hispanic community
Rob Tibbetts also addressed animosity towards immigrants at his daughter's funeral last Sunday, when he said "the Hispanic community are Iowans," according to the Register. "They have the same values as Iowans. As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food."
He echoed that sentiment in his Saturday op-ed, delivering a message directly to those who have been targeted by anti-immigrant graffiti and racist robocalls.
"The person who is accused of taking Mollie's life is no more a refection of the Hispanic community as white supremacists are of all white people," he said. "To suggest otherwise is a lie," he wrote.
"To the Hispanic community, my family stands with you and offers its heartfelt apology."
"That you've been beset by the circumstances of Mollie's death is wrong. We treasure the contribution you bring to the American tapestry in all its color and melody."
"And yes," Tibbetts added, "we love your food."
His stepdaughter, "whom Mollie loved so dearly, is Latina," he wrote, as are Mollie's "cherished" nephews. And as an American, he said, he endeavors to "respect every citizen of the world," adding that, "to knowingly foment discord among races is a disgrace to our flag."
"It incites fear in innocent communities and lends legitimacy to the darkest, most hate-filled corners of the American soul. It is the opposite of leadership. It is the opposite of humanity. It is heartless. It is despicable. It is shameful."
'Build bridges, not walls'
Americans should learn from the lessons imparted by not only his daughter, but also the late Sen. John McCain and singer Aretha Franklin, who taught "humanity, fairness and courage," Tibbetts wrote.
The search for his daughter brought many people of different backgrounds together to work for a common cause, he said. "Let's not lose sight of that miracle."
Americans should instead confront racism in whatever form, Tibbetts wrote, and treat others with the same compassion that the country gave his daughter when it rallied together to bring her home.
"Let's listen, not shout. Let's build bridges, not walls."
"Let's celebrate our diversity rather than argue over our differences. I can tell you, when you've lost your best friend, differences are petty and meaningless."
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