Republicans are now foundering on the rocky shoals of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Three weeks after Trump set the media world aflame with his comments about illegal immigration, the debate has not quelled.
Democrats and the media, seeking a way to demonize Republicans with Hispanic voters, have turned Trump’s statements into a litmus test for other Republican candidates. Do they agree with Trump, or do they disagree? Did he go too far, or did he raise an important issue?
Naturally, the Republican elites are appalled at Trump’s commentary and manner. Not without reason, they believe Trump’s comments were offensive in tone and tenor. But instead of separating the message from the messenger, they have bought wholesale into the media narrative: Trump is a racist, and any discussion of illegal immigrant criminality betrays a deeper xenophobia. Can’t we all just get back to avoiding discussions of same-sex marriage and illegal immigration in favor of stimulating conversations about top marginal tax rates?
The fact is this, however: without Trump’s typically blustering comments, the media would still be ignoring the problem of illegal immigrant criminality. Nobody would have heard of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, murdered over the weekend in San Francisco by a five-times-deported illegal immigrant seeking sanctuary in the city; nobody would have heard of the six-times-deported illegal immigrant charged in a felony hit-and-run of an Arizona mom and her two young kids; nobody would have heard of the four-times-deported illegal immigrant in Texas who confessed to hammering his wife to death.
The media have come to the defense of illegal immigrants, suggesting that illegal immigrants have a lower rate of crime than the general population. This neglects the basic fact that America’s immigration policy should be selective enough to avoid criminals altogether, rather than letting in swaths of illegal immigrants via an unprotected southern border. But is that contention even true?
According to the Immigration Policy Center, an advocacy group for illegal immigration, the answer is yes:
[I]mmigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are not associated with higher rates of crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the undocumented, regardless of their country of origin or level of education.
To evidence this contention, IPC shows that the foreign-born share of the US population has increased dramatically over the last two decades, including illegal immigrants, while crime has fallen; a 2007 study from sociologist Ruben G. Rumbaut that found that the incarceration rate for the native-born young men aged 18-39 was five times higher than that of immigrants; and reports from the Public Policy Institute of California (“the foreign-born, who make up about 35 percent of the adult population in California, constitute only about 17 percent of the adult prison population”), and the New Jersey Department of Corrections and US Census Bureau, among others.
Pew Research has created a graph supposedly charting criminal offenses among the native-born and first- and second-generation immigrants, and finding that native-born Americans and second-generation immigrants are significantly more likely to commit crimes than first-generation immigrants.
On the other side of the argument, Northwestern University researcher Jorg Spenkuch has found, according to Reason, “a ten percent increase in the share of immigrants–roughly one percentage point based on numbers from the 2000 Census–is estimated to lead to an increase in the property crime rate of circa 1.2 percent, while the rate of violent crimes remains essentially unaffected.”
The Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-illegal immigration group, cites criminal statistics from certain counties, like Maricopa County, Arizona, where 22 percent of felons are illegal immigrants; they point out that as of 2009, “57 percent of the 76 fugitive murderers most wanted by the FBI were foreign-born”; they rip the “poor quality of data used” in the PPIC and IPC studies, with good reason.
Why this controversy? Shouldn’t it be easy to determine the criminality rate of illegal immigrants by, for example, determining the place of origin for those currently in America’s prisons? It would be, but as Ann Coulter has pointed out, the government refuses to measure such statistics:
Instead of counting the immigrant stock filling up our prisons, the government issues a series of comical reports claiming to tally immigrant crime. The Department of Justice relies on immigrants’ self-reports of their citizenship. The U.S. census simply guesses the immigration status of inmates. The Government Accounting Office conducts its own analysis of Bureau of Prisons data. In other words, the government hasn’t the first idea how many prisoners are legal immigrants, illegal immigrants or anchor babies.
The Atlantic, attempting to argue that illegal immigration doesn’t impact crime rates, actually underscores Coulter’s point:
In a 2013 study conducted by Lake Research Partners, as well as scholars from PolicyLink and the University of Illinois at Chicago, 45 percent of Latinos reported that fear of police investigating either their own immigration status or the status of people they know makes them less likely to voluntarily offer information about crimes. Even 28 percent of U.S.-born Latinos said that they are less likely to contact police officers even if they’ve been the victims of a crime because they fear police will look into the immigration status of people they know. Among undocumented immigrants, fully 70 percent report they are less likely to contact police.
Underreporting crime does not mean that crime does not exist. It simply means it is ignored, which makes it more common. America’s drug problem can largely be attributed to the influence of Mexican drug cartels, who do a hefty business in illegal immigration; so too can much of America’s gang problem, which is responsible for a large share of the murders in the United States. As Judicial Watch reported last year:
Of the 61,529 criminal cases initiated by federal prosecutors last fiscal year, more than 40%—or 24,746—were filed in court districts neighboring the Mexican border….Nearly 22% (13,383) were drug related, 19.7% (12,123) were violent crimes and 10.2% (6,300) involved white-collar offenses that include a full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals.
Journalists in border areas have cut down on their reporting of crime in these areas for fear of retaliation by Mexican-based cartels and gangs.
So, putting aside the rhetorical flourishes and speaking statistically, was Trump right? The fact that we don’t know the answer from a government supposedly dedicated to keeping our border secure demonstrates that his case is stronger than the media report or wish.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.