The University of Iowa chapter of a conservative student organization declined a proposal that the campus host two of the group’s highest-profile national leaders for an “immigration event” following the alleged murder of a student by an immigrant, calling the proposal exploitative and “in poor taste” before resigning from the group.
In a letter penned by executive board members of the university’s chapter of Turning Point USA—a pro-Trump non-profit organization for campus conservatives—the University of Iowa chapter said that following the discovery of rising sophomore Mollie Tibbetts’ body in a cornfield on Tuesday, the chapter’s president purportedly received a message from a Turning Point field director that “insisted” that Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk and communications director Candace Owens visit the University of Iowa to host an immigration-related event.
“We respectfully decline this invitation,” the board members wrote, adding that they found the idea of using Tibbetts’ death “to suit a political agenda” distasteful.
Citing Turning Point USA’s embrace of anti-immigrant rhetoric, the group concluded its letter by announcing the resignation of its executive board members.
“When members of this board took on their roles, they were told that Turning Point USA would focus solely on fiscal issues,” the board wrote, adding that it “does not take responsibility” for the statements made by the group’s national leadership on social issues, including immigration.
The board members later updated their statement, writing on Twitter that the offer to host the event came from “students not affiliated University of Iowa Turning Point USA.” Owens condemned the chapter online, accusing the chapter of lying about having been contacted by a field director and “exploitation” of Mollie Tippetts’ death. (She also misspelled Tibbetts’ name.)
In their initial letter, the board members also condemned Owens’ behavior towards a member of Tibbetts’ family as “public harassment.”
In a series of tweets, Owens pointed to Tibbetts’ murder as evidence that liberals do not care about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, a point of view that Sam Lucas, a distant cousin of Tibbetts’, called “despicable.”
Owens responded that she found it “strange” that a member of Tibbetts’ family would direct obscenities towards President Donald Trump’s supporters.
The University of Iowa’s Turning Point chapter extended their sympathy to Lucas, asking “that your exchange with Owens represent only herself and not conservatives as a whole.”
The Trump administration and its supporters have claimed that Tibbetts’ death could have been prevented with the implementation of the president’s hardline immigration agenda, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday calling Tibbetts’ death “an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our immigration laws.”
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 24-year-old Mexican national, was arrested on Tuesday after leading law enforcement officials to Tibbetts’ body.
In a court filing on Wednesday, Rivera’s lawyer said that his client was working in the United States legally, an assertion that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied.
UPDATE: This story has been updated throughout.