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DES MOINES, Iowa  –  Graffiti sprayed on a street on the South side of Des Moines on Thursday is being called hate speech.

The words “Deport Illegals” were found spray-painted on both lanes of Bloomfield Road east of SE 14th street on Thursday morning.

Latino activist and South side resident Joe Enriquez Henry called the graffiti hate speech that was meant to intimidate Latinos living in the neighborhood.  He blames it on an increase in tensions against Latinos in the wake of the arrest of Cristhian Rivera, an illegal immigrant, for the murder of Mollie Tibbetts.  He says Governor Kim Reynolds has fueled that tension.

“Had not Governor Reynolds put out a press release over a week ago regarding Mollie Tibbetts and what appeared to us as a clear attack on the immigrant community,” Henry said, “we probably wouldn’t be having this happen right now.”

Hours after Tibbetts’ body was discovered Reynolds released a statment reading in part:

“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie`s killer.”

Reynolds has denied accusations that she is politicizing the death of Tibbetts.  A spokesperson for the Tibbetts family has asked that her death not become part of the immigration debate.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie also labeled the graffiti as hate speech.  He released this statement Thursday:

“The City of Des Moines today became aware of the hate message spray-painted on Bloomfield Road on the city’s south side. The graffiti appeared to target immigrants. These actions are unfortunate and not consistent with Des Moines’ spirit of compassion. Such actions have no place in our city. Upon learning
of this incident, city crews and police acted quickly to close the road and erase these hateful sentiments.  On behalf of the City of Des Moines, its elected officials and more than 217,000 residents, we express our disappointment that this occurred. Des Moines is a compassionate community that values the safety of all
of our residents and visitors.”