Samantha Lucas, the second cousin of Mollie Tibbetts, said the slain student would not want her death to be used as “fuel against undocumented immigrants” following the identification of Tibbetts’s suspected murderer.
Tibbetts was a 20-year-old Iowa college student who had been missing for a month before being found dead this week.
Cristhian Rivera was arrested and charged with murder earlier this week. Law enforcement has identified him as an undocumented immigrant, but his lawyer has disputed that claim.
Shortly after his arrest, President Trump delivered remarks at a rally on Tuesday, calling Rivera an “illegal alien.”
“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman,” he said. “Should’ve never happened. ... The laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed, but we have to get more Republicans.”
Lucas told CNN in an interview published Thursday that though she didn’t know Tibbetts well, she knew her well enough to believe that “she would not want this to be used as fuel against undocumented immigrants.”
Conservative commentator Candace Owens echoed similar sentiments as Trump on Tuesday in a tweet, saying: “Leftists boycotted, screamed, and cried when illegal immigrants were temporarily separated [from] their parents. What will they do for Mollie Tibbetts? What did they do for Kate Steinle? They will NEVER see their parents again.”
Lucas quickly shot back at that tweet on Tuesday night with one of her own, demanding that Tibbett's death not be used in political discourse.
“Hey, I’m a member of Mollie’s family and we are not so f--king small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals,” Lucas said on Twitter. “Now stop being a f--king snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. Take her name out of your mouth.”
hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth. https://t.co/xxZNBF0Uv9— sam (@samlucasss) August 22, 2018
Billie Jo Calderwood, Tibbetts’s aunt, also seemed to push back against her niece’s death being to discuss illegal immigration.
"I don't want Mollie's memory to get lost amongst politics," Calderwood told CNN.
"It's not about race, it's about people joining together to do good," Calderwood said in a similar message on Facebook, adding that “Evil comes in EVERY color.”
However, Tibbetts's family also said in a statement they were grateful for the outpour of support they have received. The family's statement did not mention illegal immigration.
Rivera’s lawyer, Allen Richards, filed a court document on Wednesday stating that his client was legally working in the U.S., the Des Moines Register reported.
In the court document, Richards accused the government of wrongly promoting that notion that Rivera was in the U.S. illegally and called Trump “sad and sorry” for weighing on the case.
"Sad and sorry Trump has weighed in on this matter in national media which will poison the entire possible pool of jury members," Richards wrote, citing Trump's comments on the case.
However, both U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have maintained that Rivera is not in the country legally.
An ICE spokesperson also referred to Rivera as an "illegal alien from Mexico."