Two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Republicans are smearing 3rd congressional district candidate Hillary Scholten as a “reckless liberal” who helped people “evade the law.”
The National Congressional Republican Committee, a political action committee that seeks to maintain Republican control of Congress, is airing “Evade,” a 30-second ad that scrutinizes the Democrat’s work as an immigration attorney and impugns her motives.
No doubt, Scholten is a liberal seeking to represent a west Michigan congressional district that has traditionally been conservative.
Some of her work has been divisive, including targeting the Grand Rapids Police Department, but the ad distorts her record to reach a fear-mongering, irresponsible conclusion.
The ad starts by asserting that Scholten helped “liberals sue law enforcement,” while the text “COMPLAINTS FILED AGAINST GRPD” appears on the screen, and helped “criminal illegal immigrants stay in Michigan.”
“Did she do it for the money? Or is Scholten really that liberal,” the ad states, adding she “put west Michigan families at risk by pushing to make Kent County a sanctuary jurisdiction, even for criminals.”
Scholten is campaigning against Peter Meijer for a congressional seat that represents west Michigan and was made vacant when Justin Amash, a Republican turned independent, opted against seeking re-election.
The ad weaves together claims that are grounded in truth, but it glosses over details to argue that Scholten worked to help people “evade the law.”
In fact, in each case, courts ruled that Scholten’s side was actually on the right side of the law.
The ad relies on four arguments, claiming Scholten helped:
"Liberals sue law enforcement"
That refers to a 2019 complaint filed against the Grand Rapids Police by the ACLU and Michigan Immigration Rights Center, which was Scholten’s employer at the time.
The case involved the arrest of a Latino military veteran who was an American citizen. He was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a suspected undocumented immigrant even though police recovered his U.S. passport. The man was released from custody days later. A police captain was suspended for turning the man over and removed as an ICE liaison.
Despite the ad’s assertions, the arrest did not result in a lawsuit.
"Criminal illegal immigrants stay in Michigan"
In 2017, Scholten was one of 26 attorneys to write a declaration of support for an ACLU lawsuit, Hamama v. Adducci, which sought to block the deportation of 1,400 Iraqis nationwide who had been detained by ICE, including more than 100 in metro Detroit.
The group were targeted for either overstaying their visas or being convicted of crimes. Courts sided with the ACLU, releasing detainees.
"People evade the law"
In 2019, Scholten sent a tweet that linked to a video that explained how immigrants could prepare for an encounter with ICE agents.
Communities of color are understandably terrified by WH threats of imminent mass immigration raids. This unaccountable agency sweeps up unintended targets, and their prison conditions are abysmal. Prep yourself for an ICE encounter with this guide by @NILC. #nohatenofear https://t.co/xZFWjUd6M2— Hillary Scholten (@HillaryScholten) June 22, 2019
The video explained the rights of those stopped by ICE, including the rights to remain silent and to ask for an attorney. It explains that bystanders are legally allowed to record the interaction as long as they are “transparent” in doing so.
Nothing in the video could be considered “evading the law” in a reasonable sense.
“Put west Michigan families at risk by pushing to make Kent County a sanctuary jurisdiction”
In 2018, Scholten was part of a group that petitioned Kent County to end its contract with ICE, stop aiding deportation efforts, and stop turning over arrested undocumented immigrants to the agency.
A few months later, Kent County obliged, with the sheriff announcing in January 2019 that it would stop the practice of detaining immigrants without a warrant.
Did that put families at risk?
Analysis of FBI crime statistics by Tom Wong of the University of California found that sanctuary cities have, on average, 15 percent less crime than other comparable cities, although he noted that more research needs to be done.
Another study in 2016 by researchers at Highline College and the University of California-Riverside concluded that “designating a city as a sanctuary has no statistically significant effect on crime.”
The Department of Homeland Security and right-leaning groups such as the Heritage Foundation disagree, pointing to a 2011 study from the General Accounting Office that found about half of the 250,000 illegal immigrants in jails and prisons had at least one drug offense and had been arrested an average of seven times.
“Scholten is a left-wing activist who has put criminals ahead of the safety of west Michigan by pushing to make Kent County a sanctuary jurisdiction and posting a public video with instructions for how to evade ICE,” NRCC spokeswoman Carly Atchison told Bridge.
The NRCC repeated these claims in another recent ad “Break the Law”.
Scholten called the ads a “disservice to the public.”
“At a time when trust in our government is at an all-time low, they further undermine the faith we should have in our elected officials," Scholten told Bridge Michigan. "Folks I talk to on the campaign trail recognize that the ads are dishonest and deceitful.”
Scholten’s work as an attorney is fair game for scrutiny. Voters have a right to know where she stands on issues.
But the ad goes far beyond that, falsely claiming Scholten subverted the law and worked to make communities less safe. That’s a gross distortion of a lawyer’s advocacy role, especially when, in each case, courts found that Scholten was on the right side of the law.