Im­mi­grant-bash­ing over a crime that didn’t happen

An in­ci­dent at Rockville High was seized on, even by the White House, in the na­tional de­bate on il­le­gal cross­ings.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

AGEYSER of mis­in­for­ma­tion, col­ored by re­flex­ive im­mi­grant-bash­ing, in­un­dated the pub­lic com­men­tary over a pair of un­doc­u­mented His­panic teenagers charged with rap­ing a 14-year-old girl, their class­mate, at a Mont­gomery County high school in March. From the White House to the state­house in An­napo­lis, and in an out­pour­ing of on­line op­pro­brium, the case was seized on as a con­ve­nient tool with which to re­in­force the stereo­type, pop­u­lar­ized by President Trump, of il­le­gal im­mi­grants as sex­ual preda­tors.

Fast-for­ward seven weeks. Pros­e­cu­tors have now dropped rape and sex of­fense charges against the 17and 18-year-old stu­dents for the in­ci­dent, which de­fense lawyers have in­sisted was con­sen­sual. How­ever tawdry the episode, how­ever odi­ous the con­duct of the two young men who abused a vul­ner­a­ble young girl, it did not con­sti­tute a crime — at least not one pros­e­cu­tors felt they could make stick given what pros­e­cu­tors called ma­jor “in­con­sis­ten­cies” from wit­nesses.

Given the new in­for­ma­tion, will there be any climb-down from March’s rush to judg­ment? Will White House spokesman Sean Spicer re­tract his state­ment that “im­mi­gra­tion pays its toll on our peo­ple if it’s not done legally, and this is an­other ex­am­ple”? Will Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan re­think his epi­cally con­fused com­ment that be­cause of President Barack Obama’s “amnesty pro­gram,” the teens had been “sent . . . to Mont­gomery County with no one be­ing pro­vided in­for­ma­tion”? (No “amnesty” cov­ered the teenagers; they weren’t “sent” to the county — they joined rel­a­tives there of their own vo­li­tion; and the Supreme Court has ruled that pub­lic schools are ob­li­gated to ed­u­cate stu­dents ages 5 to 21, re­gard­less of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.)

No doubt, the county school sys­tem should be held to ac­count, and made to re­view its se­cu­rity poli­cies, for an episode that, what­ever the cir­cum­stances, should not have oc­curred in a pub­lic build­ing dur­ing a school day. That no crime may have been com­mit­ted does not ex­cuse the fact of what was ap­par­ently an ex­tended en­counter in a bath­room at Rockville High School, un­der the nose of teach­ers and other school au­thor­i­ties.

Na­tivists were primed for such an in­ci­dent, their quick-draw con­dem­na­tion ready at hand. Never mind that ev­i­dence shows il­le­gal im­mi­grants are no more likely to com­mit crimes than na­tive-born Amer­i­cans; the fact of their ex­is­tence and their oth­er­ness is enough to set the big­ots ful­mi­nat­ing.

Pros­e­cu­tors still plan to charge one or both un­doc­u­mented teenagers with pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy, ap­par­ently for hav­ing re­ceived and for­warded photos sent by the girl her­self. That may be a stretch — one of the de­fense lawyers termed it “se­lec­tive pros­e­cu­tion of elec­tive promis­cu­ity” — given the na­tion­wide epi­demic among teenagers shar­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate images, few of whom face crim­i­nal charges.

What’s been lost in the in­ci­dent, and in the blind­ing speed with which par­ti­sans wielded it as a weapon in the na­tional de­bate, is any em­pa­thy for the young girl. That may be the real tragedy in this sad tale.

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