Over the weekend, a twice-deported unlicensed, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala suspected of driving under the influence killed Indiana Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson and another passenger. Conservative media immediately seized on Jackson’s death to bring attention to unauthorized migration. No one has yet brought the same level of attention to drunk driving, one of the deadliest causes of driving fatalities.
Jackson’s tragic death took place around 4 a.m. Sunday when he and his Uber driver stood outside the car on Interstate 70 because Jackson had become sick. A F-150 driven by the immigrant struck the two men, throwing one of the men into the center lane. As a passing state trooper slowed to a stop, the officer struck the body in the center lane. Police have since identified Manuel Orrego-Savala as the driver of the vehicle, although he originally gave an alias at the scene– Alex Cabrera Gonsales– and tried to flee on foot. Orrego-Savala was taken to jail and “accused of driving without a license and on suspicion of intoxicated driving,” CNN reported. Police are working with immigration officials who have placed a hold on him for deportation proceedings.
Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana, tweeted on Monday that Jackson’s death was a “senseless & avoidable tragedy.” Tuesday morning, Fox and Friends ran a segment on the incident and linked the car crash to a need for stronger immigration enforcement.
After the Fox segment aired, the president weighed in on Jackson’s death on Twitter, calling it “just one of many such preventable tragedies.” The tweet appeared to allow Trump to acknowledge that this particular Black man’s death was senseless and preventable. But almost immediately, Trump used the moment to call for border security.
Trump was right to say that this was a preventable tragedy. To be clear, Jackson’s death should absolutely induce indignation, but not necessarily because the driver who killed him was undocumented.
Drunk driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported, kills tens of thousands of people each year. That organization estimated 10,497 people — out of 37,461 people who died in traffic crashes in 2016 — were killed in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level. In 67 percent of those crashes, at least one driver in the crash had a BAC of .15 or higher, or twice the legal limit. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine pointed out that alcohol-impaired driving crashes are a “persistent public health and safety problem” with an average of one death every 49 minutes.
Trump didn’t tweet condolences for the other 10,497 people who died from drunk driving. That’s likely because his administration has a militant focus on senseless crimes committed by immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, to sharply differentiate and “other” white Americans from the immigrants who live in the country. That happened in 2015 when Republican lawmakers exploited the murder of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle by a five-time deported undocumented immigrant. Her death became the basis for multiple Republican-led bills to force cities to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants for federal deportation proceedings. The president also made immigrant crime a focus at his State of the Union event when he invited the parents of victims of the MS-13 gang.
The lives and deaths of Jackson and the other passenger mattered. And their deaths perhaps achingly resonate too well for people who have dealt with drunk-driving fatalities themselves. But twisting the topline of why Jackson’s death mattered by highlighting immigrant crime shouldn’t have been the focus of Trump’s tweet.