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AP FACT CHECK: Claims in Comstock MS-13 ad fall short

August 29, 2018

FILE - In this June 26, 2018, file photo, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., walks to a closed-door GOP strategy session at the Capitol in Washington. In Northern Virginia, violent crimes attributed to MS-13 have made the gang a focal point in the hotly contested race in the state’s 10th Congressional District. But an ad by incumbent Republican Rep. Comstock criticizing her opponent Democratic state Senator Jennifer Wexton for failing to support anti-gang legislation falls short, according to The Associated Press. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In Northern Virginia, violent crimes attributed to MS-13 have made the gang a focal point in the hotly contested race in the state’s 10th Congressional District.

But an ad by incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock criticizing her opponent Democratic state Senator Jennifer Wexton for failing to support anti-gang legislation falls short.

The current ad for Comstock shows a series of news clips highlighting recent killings by MS-13 and features a former gang member describing how MS-13 recruits children. It then describes two bills Comstock proposed in Congress to combat the gang. Images of Wexton are overlaid with text saying Wexton opposes the bills. The ad goes on to state that the bills garnered bipartisan support.

Wexton’s campaign objects to the ad portraying her as an opponent of anti-gang legislation even though she has disparaged the legislation as racist. For her part, Comstock exaggerates bipartisan support for one of the bills, the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act. In addition, it should be noted that a Washington Post headline used in the ad —“MS-13 is ‘taking over the school’, one teen warned before she was killed.”— refers to a school in New York, not Virginia.

A look at Comstock’s claims:

COMSTOCK: “Jennifer Wexton opposes 2 bipartisan bills Barbara Comstock wrote to battle the MS-13 gang” — campaign ad on Twitter Aug. 9

THE FACTS: Wexton has not directly addressed Comstock’s two bills. Comstock’s campaign said the ad was referring to this quote from Wexton: “For Barbara Comstock, the Latino community is nothing more than MS-13. That’s the legislation she’s patroned, that’s the Republican playbook, that’s what we saw in 2017 races, that’s what we’ve seen with their pandering and fear-mongering and race-baiting.”

Since Wexton cites the legislation in the context of “fear-mongering and race-baiting” it’s arguable to characterize that as an opposition, though she couldn’t vote against it as a Virginia state senator. Wexton’s campaign told The Associated Press she does not oppose these bills.

The Project Safe Neighborhood bill that was enacted into law provides $50 million in funding to local gang task forces. Wexton’s campaign said she is firmly in support of funding local gang task forces. Neither candidate has been officially backed by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.

The Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act allows for those suspected of gang violence, living in the U.S. illegally, to be deported and prevents people suspected of gang involvement from coming to the U.S.

Ray Rieling, Wexton’s campaign manager, said, “MS-13 is a serious issue and one that both candidates have worked to fight. But it isn’t the only issue.”

COMSTOCK: “Barbara’s Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act gained bipartisan support from Democratic female members and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus” — campaign ad on Twitter Aug. 9

THE FACTS: The Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act did not garner as much bipartisan support as suggested. Only 11 out of 193 Democrats in the House voted yes on the bill, three of those votes coming from female Democrats including Kyrtsen Sinema, Stephanie Murphy and Jacky Rosen. There are 84 women in the House. As for Congressional Hispanic Caucus member support, four members out of 31 gave their support to the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act. Those members were Ruben Kihuen, Henry Cuellar, Raul Ruiz and Salud Carbajal.

The other bill Comstock sponsored, Project Safe Neighborhood, became a law in June 2018 with 178 Democrats and 216 Republicans voting yes in the House. Thirteen Republicans had voted no to the bill.

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