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.
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.