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Facts apparently don’t matter anymore in undocumented debate
Jason Campbell

It isn’t every day that the President of the United States goes on national television and speaks about a tragedy that occurred in your backyard. 

And when the President uses his first televised address from the Oval Office to speak about a tragedy that happened in your backyard, it’s pretty easy to pay attention to the details, and think about them in the larger context.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump mentioned the death of Newman Police Officer Ronil Singh in his address to the nation and introduced some interesting tidbits about the case that nobody had heard of until they heard them spoken by the most powerful person in the free world. 

Perhaps that’s because they weren’t true. According to President Trump, Singh’s killer – illegal immigrant Paulo Virgen Mendoza – had “just came” into the country, which fit his narrative about the current state of our Southern border reaching a “crisis” point. 

But, digging a little bit beneath the surface, we can see that was not factually accurate. According to multiple media sources that have examined Mendoza’s records and talked in-depth with law enforcement, he was arrested in both 2011 and 2014 for driving under the influence in Madera County. This is important because it shows that he has at least been in the United States since 2011 – which is eight years ago – and making it appear like he just crossed into the country last week is disingenuous at best. 

But you don’t have to look very far to see where he might have gotten that notion. 

Former Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who left office after 12 years of service as the county’s top cop this past week, has been vocal about how California’s sanctuary policies have contributed to the death of the officer.

According to Christianson – who has gone on the Sean Hannity show on Fox News to talk about California’s failed immigration policies and how they played a role in Singh’s death, and even appears in a political video being pushed by the Republican National Committee – it was a combination of Senate Bill 54 and the Trust Act, both of which bolster California’s “sanctuary” policies.

Under closer scrutiny, however, that argument falls apart. For one, there were no policies when Mendoza was arrested in Madera County in 2011. Given that local law enforcement routinely shares the fingerprints of those suspected of committing a crime with the federal government, there was nothing that prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement from placing a detainer on him at that moment and calling for his deportation. That did not happen. While the Trust Act would have come into play in 2014, there’s no indication that ICE had a file on Mendoza – when they finally did place a hold on him, after he murdered Singh, it was the first official action that they had taken on his immigration status. 

It’s almost as if Christianson is scoring political points – and going on the show of the man that many inside The Beltway consider Trump’s “Shadow Chief of Staff” – on his way out the door rather than dealing with the facts of the case as they are. 

At the end of the day, a man who did everything right to come to the United States and be a productive, contributing member of our society was gunned down by somebody who did the exact opposite, and that is, from top-to-bottom, an absolute tragedy. But it’s a tragedy without all of the other stuff thrown into the equation – which some could call manipulation – and it’s anybody’s guess as to what the upside of such an approach is. 

At least Christianson, however, is working with something that’s loosely based on the facts. 

One local columnist tried to make the connection that because Mendoza (he used Arriega, his other alias) had ties to the “Surreno” community, that he therefore was a member of MS-13.

Absolutely not. 

Not that I’m in the business of defending murderous, drug-dealing gangs, but the two, while connected, are not even close to being the same. 

For one, the term “Surreno” is a blanket term for any “southern” gang that aligns itself with the Mexican Mafia, or La Eme, when incarcerated. They are the opposite of the “Norteno” cliques, also known as “northerners,” who align themselves with the Nuestra Familia when incarcerated. While the Surrenos use the same “13” moniker, MS-13 originated as a gang comprised of Salvadorian immigrants – the “salvatrucha” in their name is a nod to the guerilla fighters in their home country – and while allied with the Mexican Mafia, stand alone in structure and hierarchy. 

But, not surprisingly, the President has used his bully pulpit to align the violent, horrific actions with MS-13 to the border issue, and it’s therefore easy to make connections where none exist. Mendoza is, allegedly, a cop killer – which is as bad as you can get in our society – so I don’t see the need to place other, erroneous badges to him in order to make people hate him more than they already do.

He killed a cop. He killed a family man just hours after he left them on Christmas Day to go and make sure that the rest of the people of Newman and Stanislaus County were safe. That alone is potentially a capital crime, so why play the rhetoric game?

Is this the new standard for our political discourse – where facts are manipulated, even at a local level? I can’t think of a single time that an American president has had anything to say about this region, save for the times that they came here wanting money, or stumping for election, and it’s tragic that rather than focusing on the good things that are happening in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, it has now become a flashpoint in the immigration and culture wars. 

Facts, and context, are supposed to matter to people in law enforcement, and tragedy can stand on its own without having things attached to it in order to make it even more tragic than it already is. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.