He saved a cop but they don't talk about him

Juan Carlos Salgado is a hero, an undocumented immigrant and someone Republicans won't talk about

If the cops had died in the crash and Juan Carlos Salgado Villalobos had been driving the car his face would be on TVs tuned to Fox News from sea to shining sea. They’d run his mugshot alongside CCTV footage showing the squad car being struck violently and starting on fire. ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT CRASHES INTO POLICE CAR, KILLING OFFICERS, the chyron would read. Politicians would feature the same footage and the same mugshot in campaign ads that decry undocumented immigrants and amplify the crimes they commit.

Some would take to the House or Senate floor to give speeches on Juan Carlos’ horrific act, and how it’s just another instance of illegal immigrants run amok. They might even name a bill after the officers who were killed, just to show how serious they were about keeping Americans safe from the prone-to-violence population of undocumented brown people among us.

But none of those things will be happening(1) because Juan Carlos is the savior of two Houston police officers, not their killer. What also won’t be happening — save for a lone tweet from a Texas Republican I convinced to honor Juan Carlos last week — are any speeches on the House or Senate floor or campaign ads noting that he was an undocumented immigrant who bravely saved the lives of two cops, then walked away without seeking credit for his heroism.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT HERO SAVES COPS, the chyron on Fox News will never read.

***

This is where we are now. One political party has chosen over the last two years — and much longer than that and I’m sure a lot more in the future — to amplify the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, even though those crimes are far fewer in number than those committed by native-born citizens. The other party largely refuses to point out this cold hard fact every time a Republican takes to the airwaves or a congressional lectern to fear-monger about tragic deaths at the hands of undocumented immigrants, warning us that Kate Steinle and Mollie Tibbetts are just the beginning if we don’t Do Something about it.

Ignored — as they almost always are — are the millions of undocumented immigrants who live peaceful, quiet, humble and hard-working lives. People like Juan Carlos.

This will get worse as 2020 approaches. With the president facing the dual threats of Democrats with subpoena power and the Mueller investigation, he and his allies will once again look to immigrants, especially undocumented ones, to distract Americans.

It goes without saying that men and women like Juan Carlos largely are not the problem. Whether it’s violent crime (at a rate of less than half what it was a quarter century ago) like homicide (which the best available data shows is mostly committed by native-born citizens, in 2017 mostly by blacks and whites), low-paying jobs (helped along by the death of unions thanks to Republicans’ preference for right-to-work laws), the opioid crisis (exacerbated by pharmaceutical companies, not Mexican drug cartels), rising income inequality (the Trump tax cuts made sure this trend continues) or health problems that bankrupt us (Republicans who tried to kill Obamacare without a replacement just happen to be heavily invested in the healthcare industry, go figure) — undocumented immigrants have little or nothing to do with what ails the average American.

But they’re an all-too convenient scapegoat, which is why they’ll continue to be used as such.

***

The day of Juan Carlos’ death, it turns out, I began a conversation with Chip Roy, the newly-elected House rep for San Antonio. Roy is Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff and pretty typical for a Texas Republican in that he employs fear-mongering tactics about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, which is how he came across my radar.

After much back-and-forth Roy eventually shared Juan Carlos’ story with his followers, noting that he was undocumented (before I’d confirmed this, but whatever) and that it was a “good reminder that we’re talking about people, not numbers,” Roy said.

But Roy’s and others’ discussions of the “numbers” of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants are fundamentally flawed. Roy likes to cite the number of such crimes in Texas since 2011. What he consistently fails to provide is the amount of crimes committed by native-born citizens.

That’s some pretty important context.

Roy doesn’t “have those figures” on hand, he told me. And there is a very simple reason for this: for his purposes, they don’t matter. One can’t properly fear-monger if they’re putting things into proper context. We know immigrants — undocumented and documented — commit far fewer crimes than native-born citizens.

But none of this is actually about the numbers and their proper context.(2) This is all about the age-old blame game. Creating a panic about undocumented immigrants and refusing to amplify good stories about them, like that of Juan Carlos, is about making sure that Americans have someone to blame for all the bad things that happen in their lives — crime, shitty jobs, addiction and depression, no money, massive hospital bills — what’s your gripe? Add it.

Politicians like Roy and many others would very much like for Americans not to blame them for the problems facing this country’s citizens each day, so they find someone else to point their fingers at. But they can’t point their fingers at people like Juan Carlos, so they do the next best thing: ignore them.(3)

There’s good in all of this, though. Thanks to the generosity of those who read my story about Juan Carlos at The Beast, the family is now able to afford to send his body back to his home in the far southern Mexican state of Guerrero, where he’ll be laid to rest.

Vaya con Dios, Juan Carlos.

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(1) It is slightly possible someone will seize on this incident to fear-monger about undocumented immigrants. That’s because one of the officers involved in the crash remains unconscious — although he’s expected to survive — and the driver who struck the officers was himself an undocumented immigrant.
(2) See if you can figure out what Roy is talking about when he says “I’m glad we can agree that 1) the large gap in crime committed by legal and illegal immigrants and 2) that any preventable crime is worth preventing! Thanks!” Ok then, 1) the Cato Institute study Roy was referencing shows that undocumented immigrants commit less crime than those here legally, and that both groups commit far less crime than native-born Americans. The gap he speaks of does not exist. And 2) yes, theoretically if you prevent all illegal immigration you would prevent all crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, but the best way to do that is not with a wall, but by prosecuting employers who hire workers without papers.
(3) I do give Roy massive credit for highlighting Juan Carlos’ story to his followers. But it’s a finger over a pin hole in a levee that has car-sized chunks of concretes breaking free from it.

P.S. The successful funding effort to get Juan Carlos a proper burial wouldn’t have been possible without the people who amplified this story. Ryan tipped me off to it a week ago; Sarah reported alongside me, taking photos and video the whole time, when I decided to go to Houston at the drop of a hat last week; Miller was patient as always as I spent days chasing the question of whether Juan Carlos was undocumented; and Joel Eisenbaum of KPRC-Houston first exposed Juan Carlos’ story to the world. Most important were the efforts of John Alexander Marin and his father, Gilberto, who ensured that the Houston Police Department knew of Juan Carlos’ heroism and started the GoFundMe to raise money so he could be buried near his family in Guerrero.