Republican ads feature MS-13, hoping fear will motivate voters

Campaign advertisements appearing for this year’s midterm elections include a stream of Republican campaign ads linking immigration to crime.

One-quarter of Republican ads running nationwide this election season denounce immigrant violence, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, and advocate for President Donald Trump’s draconian anti-immigrant policies, which include separating immigrant children from their parents and slashing the number of refugee admissions.

The GOP ads echo the rhetoric of Trump, who on Wednesday tweeted an inflammatory anti-immigration ad that attacks Democrats as soft on crime.

Republican Geoff Diehl, who is hoping to unseat Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, has run ads attacking his opponent’s liberal stance on immigration. They make the unsubstantiated claim that undocumented immigrants “kill over 7,000 people a year.”

MS-13 in the spotlight

The street gang MS-13 plays a starring role in many of the GOP’s ads.

“Gangs like MS-13 exploit our broken immigration system and commit terrible crimes, horrific crimes,” says an attack ad against Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, adding that the Democrat voted against “getting tough” on immigration.

I’ve spent the last seven years researching MS-13, and my 2018 book about this Salvadoran street gang examines the way conservative politicians leverage its brutal image to serve their electoral and policy agendas.

Because its membership is primarily Latino, MS-13 helps Republicans make a crucial link between immigration and violence in voters’ minds, my research shows.

That association is factually unfounded.

Numerous studies show that immigrants actually commit crime at a lower rate than native-born Americans. Large cities with substantial immigrant populations have lower crime rates, on average, than those with minimal immigrant populations.

The Central American migrants now traveling through Mexico are fleeing extreme violence to seek asylum in the U.S. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Inflammatory anti-immigration ads

Nonetheless, the current GOP ads paint Democrats as soft on crime, allies of the Latino street gang MS-13 and “complicit” with murderers.

Republican John Rose, who hopes to represent Tennessee’s 6th district, opens a TV ad with the question: “Mexican Drug lords, MS-13 gang members, sex-traffickers … Do they run our border? Or do we?”

After a series of garish images – a knife cutting open a bag of heroin, threatening silhouettes, another knife – viewers see Rose and Trump, smiling shoulder to shoulder as the narrator commends White House policies from “build the wall” to “zero tolerance.”

MS-13 began in Los Angeles in the 1990s and later expanded into Central American cities, where it has undermined governance and terrorized local populations.