A brutal murder, politicizing a family’s pain, scuffing the thin blue line


Photo courtesy of Anna Liz Nichols / Michigan Advance

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

On March 22, Ruby Garcia, age 25, was shot and killed, and her body was left on the side of US-131 in Grand Rapids. Two days later, Brandon Ortiz-Vite, also 25, called Michigan State Police and confessed to the murder.

Ortiz-Vite, who is awaiting trial in Kent County Jail, is a Mexican national who came to the United States as a child, grew up in West Michigan, and was arrested and deported in 2020 following a series of crimes including driving under the influence and illegally entering a private home. He may have been romantically involved with Garcia.

Donald Trump, who has used bombastic anti-immigrant rhetoric to once again seize the Republican nomination and will face President Biden in the November election, quickly capitalized on the tragedy and visited Grand Rapids on Tuesday, April 2, for a staged media event, where he spoke at a lectern flanked by about a dozen Michigan sheriffs.

“Under the Trump administration, this monster had been deported, thrown out of the country, wasn’t going to be able to come back,” said Trump. “Crooked Joe Biden let him come back and let him back in and let him stay in and he viciously killed Ruby. He was set loose to roam our streets and this case set loose to roam in Michigan by politicians that are left and weak and stupid.”

It’s unclear what led Ortiz-Vite down a path of crime and, ultimately, Garcia’s murder. But the man’s upbringing in Grand Rapids, not Mexico, has been widely reported. Most violent crimes in the United States are committed with weapons acquired here in our communities.

Stats show immigrants commit fewer crimes

It’s also apparent that immigrants, and undocumented immigrants in particular, have lower criminal conviction rates than native-born Americans.

“The findings show pretty consistently undocumented and illegal immigrants have a lower conviction rate and are less likely to be convicted of homicide and other crimes overall compared to native-born Americans in Texas,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., told USA TODAY last month.

According to Nowrasteh’s findings from 2012 to 2022 in Texas, undocumented immigrants have a homicide conviction rate 14% below that of native-born Americans. Immigrants have a 62% lower homicide rate and undocumented immigrants have a 41% lower total criminal conviction rate than native-born Americans.

On the other hand, violence against women occurs broadly in the United States across demographic groups.

“This isn’t about immigration. It’s about misogyny and patriarchy and all that,” said Charis Kubrin, a criminology professor at the University of California at Irvine who said blaming immigrants isn’t a solution for deterring crime. “If we want to use that kind of logic, then we should ban men from existing in the United States because they are responsible for the vast majority of crime,” she told The Washington Post in February.

Politicizing a crime

Before Trump’s media event on April 2, his campaign distributed packets featuring photos of Garcia and others who have been affected by crimes involving undocumented immigrants. Durings his remarks, Trump called Garcia an “incredible young woman who was savagely murdered by an illegal alien criminal” and erroneously said she was 17 years old. He also lied and said that he had spoken to Garcia’s family.

“He did not speak with any of us, so it was kind of shocking seeing that he had said that he had spoke with us, and misinforming people on live TV,” Ruby’s sister Mavi Garcia, who has acted as a spokeswoman for her family, told WOOD-TV8, the NBC affiliate for West Michigan.

“It’s always been about illegal immigrants,” she said. “Nobody really speaks about when Americans do heinous crimes, and it’s kind of shocking why he would just bring up illegals. What about Americans who do heinous crimes like this?”

Leelanau connection

Flanking Trump, standing behind him and to his left, was Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich, who traveled to Grand Rapids on three days’ notice after receiving an invitation from the Michigan Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) over Easter weekend.

POAM president James Tignanelli endorsed Trump during the event, but Borkovich denied that his on-camera appearance behind Trump served as an endorsement. Instead, he told the Leelanau Enterprise, the county’s paper of record, that he went to Grand Rapids for a “closed event” prior to the campaign event, where sheriffs talked to Trump about their security concerns with respect to immigration and the southern border.

“I did not go down there for a political event; I went down there for border security issues,” Borkovich told the Enterprise. The sheriff said that the topics discussed during the private roundtable with Trump included human trafficking and sex trafficking, as well as the distribution of illegal substances allegedly made in Mexico for sale in the U.S., like fentanyl and crystal methamphetamine.

Borkovich did not respond to telephone and email requests for an interview with the Sun.

Legitimate trip, but “poor optics”

Leelanau County commissioner Ty Wessel, spoke with Sheriff Borkovich the following morning to express his concerns with the “optics” of standing behind Trump—the twice impeached former president who faces a total of 88 charges across four criminal cases from his indictments for falsifying business records, interfering with the 2020 election, withholding classified documents from his presidency and his actions regarding the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that left five dead and 114 police officers injured.

“I had a good conversation with the sheriff on Wednesday morning,” Wessel told the Sun. “He told me he traveled there to meet with the (Trump) campaign at the request of the Police Officers Association. He was there as a sheriff, and they’re a legitimate group.

“But I think the optics were poor, and I don’t like Trump’s rhetoric.”

Wessel said he didn’t think any election laws were broken (by Borkovich) and he didn’t intend to take any public action. Sheriffs are elected by Leelanau County voters, and the board of commissioners exercises no power over the office.

“I have no reason to believe that when (Borkovich) went down there, he thought he would get up on stage (behind Trump),” Wessel added. “But I’m not defending him going. I think it was a mistake.”

Scathing response from County residents

When the Board of Commissioners meets Tuesday, April 9, at 9:30 am at the Leelanau County Government Center, Wessel predicts members of the public will express their opposition to Borkovich standing in uniform behind Trump the week prior.

The Board has received nine public comment letters, eight of which offer scathing rebukes to the sheriff. One letter called for Borkovich to resign; another asked “who will our sheriff protect if and when another bloodbath [such as the Jan. 6 insurrection] happens?” (One letter voiced support for the sheriff meeting Trump in Grand Rapids.)

The first letter received by the Board came from Omena resident Mary Tonneberger, who wrote: “On April 2, our Sheriff travelled to a Trump political rally in Grand Rapids. He was in uniform with his badge, indicating he was representing our county. He then appeared multiple times on cable TV and in one excerpt was shaking Trump’s hand. He also appeared next to Trump on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press. Neither the Grand Rapids police chief nor the Kent County Sheriff were in attendance. This was an invitation only event for supporters. Included were all 83 sheriffs but few attended. Trump’s remarks were vicious and contemptible. Anyone who has followed this criminally indicted former president is aware of the purpose for this kind of rally. The sheriff’s attendance implies that Leelanau County residents share Trump’s positions. The question is- who is our sheriff representing and who paid for this excursion?”