CHICAGO — At this point, it feels futile to even try to use facts to debunk the half-truths and outright lies President Trump presented during his State of the Union address.
When it comes to partisanship, sociologists have found that even facts are not enough to sway people from their political beliefs. Banging people over the head with real, authoritative information can result in them accepting the facts, but they find or create rationales to fit those facts into their preferred worldviews.
Also problematic are the truths that partisans believe but don’t want to accept.
People on the left believe that immigrants and refugees are a net positive addition to our nation — our nation whose native-born population is stagnating and hit an 80-year low in 2018. We tend to shun negative facts about them. They hurt to hear.
“Last year, our brave ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers arrested more than 120,000 criminal aliens charged with nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults, and 2,000 murders,” Trump declared during his speech.
For the record, 120,000 is the number of total ICE arrests, which includes women and children whose crimes were limited to entering the country illegally.
Also for the record, unauthorized immigrants commit crime at lower rates than the native-born population in the United States. More than a century of data gets analyzed over and over again by different groups and it always comes out the same.
“A large majority of the areas recorded decreases in both violent and property crime between 2007 and 2016, consistent with a quarter-century decline in crime across the United States,” wrote Anna Flagg, a senior data reporter with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on criminal justice. “The analysis found that crime went down at similar rates regardless of whether the undocumented population rose or fell. Areas with more unauthorized migration appeared to have larger drops in crime rates, although the difference was small and uncertain.”
Flagg has also crunched data which has found that deportations do not lower crime.
Nevertheless, how many burglaries, sexual assaults, violent assaults and murders are too many?
Even one, is the only answer. All such crimes are life-altering traumas for families across our nation.
Even one unauthorized immigrant harming someone else is to be decried. It is undeniable that crimes by the undocumented are real.
Immigrant advocates tend to not talk about this sort of crime because nativists already over-emphasize its prevalence. But we should address it because, as a result of trying to avoid the topic, what is always left unsaid is that the perpetrator’s immigrant status has nothing to do with his or her propensity to harm someone else.
I’m no apologist, just a realist: Unauthorized immigrants don’t commit violent crimes because they left their own country to come to the U.S. to harm others. If they commit crimes at all, they do it out of desperation, or due to any of the same reasons the native-born commit violent crimes. Nothing about immigration status correlates with the propensity to harm.
Without a doubt, we should absolutely do everything in our power to prevent all burglaries, sexual assaults, violent attacks and murders.
But let’s say unauthorized immigrants did commit 2,000 murders. What does that say about the 11,382 other murders that occurred in 2018 (for a total of 13,382), according to the latest FBI statistics?
Of all the murders in 2018, legal immigrants and native-born people living in the U.S. committed nearly six times the number of murders that Trump attributed to “criminal aliens.”
Sexual assaults? Trump cherry-picked the 5,000 undocumented immigrants accused of rape and left unmentioned the 119,653 total reported rapes the FBI tallied in 2018.
Again, every single crime that is perpetrated by an unauthorized immigrant is one too many.
But saying that a particular crime could have been prevented if the perpetrator had been stopped from entering the U.S. (or deported) ignores the poverty, racial discrimination, education disparities and personal histories that those who committed 1,206,836 violent crimes in 2018 are likely to have in common.
Yes, everyone, even immigrant allies and advocates, must get behind doing all we can to reduce violent crime committed by unauthorized immigrants.
But first, let’s all acknowledge that — because those particular offenses are such a small part of all the crime committed in the U.S. — the best way forward is to fix high poverty, broken education and unaffordable health care for all.
© 2020 Washington Post Writers Group