Cottonwood bus tragedy

Immigration status of the van driver shouldn’t be used as a political cudgel.

Last month, a tragedy was visited upon Cottonwood, a tiny town in western Minnesota. Four young lives, including two brothers, were taken when a van struck the side of their school bus. Since then, it has been revealed that the driver of the van, Olga Marina Franco del Cid, was a Guatemalan immigrant in the country illegally.

Already, some have tried to turn this horrible accident into a political talking point, using Franco del Cid as an example of why “illegals,” as they are called as if to make their very existence against the law, must be deported. Last week, 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show to denounce the presence of undocumented immigrants in our country, saying “This is a crime problem. This is an issue of anarchy versus the rule of law.”

If the legal system finds Franco del Cid guilty of crimes, she will be to account. But to use her to suggest an inherent criminality of undocumented immigrants is neither fair nor factually accurate. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California released last week found that foreign-born adults from Mexico, who make up a large percentage of illegal immigrants, are 8 times less likely than U.S.-born citizens to serve time in a correctional facility in California. This is even more striking when considering that immigrants to California are more likely than average citizens to be young, male and have a low level of education, characteristics that the study says usually lead to higher rates of crime and incarceration.

Illegal immigrants have no monopoly on the bad driving that took those kids’ lives. Every day, lives are claimed with Americans behind the wheel, in accidents that are every bit as tragic for families and communities as the Cottonwood incident was. Demonizing these people may be good politics, but it’s bad public policy. More efforts should be made towards comprehensive reform to bring this community out from the shadows. Perhaps if they could apply for drivers licenses without fear of deportation because of their immigration status, fewer unqualified drivers would be on the road and maybe the next tragedy like this can be avoided.