On Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee fact-checked Donald Trump’s contention that Mexican illegal immigrants were “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Naturally, based on meager evidence at best, the Post gave Trump’s statements its lowest truth rating: Four Pinocchios.
This would seem to be a difficult statement to fully fact-check, as I wrote yesterday – Trump makes no statistical claims about the level of criminality in the illegal immigrant population. It is unquestioned that some rapists have immigrated illegally to the United States across the Mexican border. It is unquestioned that huge waves of drugs have entered the United States via illegal immigration. Trump’s basic statement, taken at pure face value, is factually true in its entirety.
But the Post must debunk Trump, and so it attributes to him claims he didn’t formally make. The Post admits that Trump’s statements were “incendiary comments that some might label opinion.” Nonetheless, they contend, “Trump’s statement — which he repeatedly has defended — underscores public perceptions that can drive immigration policies.” Thus, they decide to evaluate whether illegal immigrants bring levels of crime higher than the native-born.
Before discussing that evaluation, it is worthwhile noting that the crime rate from immigrants to America should be close to zero, given that we theoretically get to choose who enters the country. It is not. Our immigration policy is broken.
The Post’s analysis ignores this basic fact. They instead compare “Incarceration Rates of Native-Born, Mexican, and Salvadoran/Guatemalan Men, Age 18-39, Without a High-School Diploma.” But why should the United States be importing people who are the least qualified in a given society? Why, precisely, should we take in people in a subgroup – 18-39 uneducated men – who are most likely to commit crime, no matter what the race?
Instead of asking this question, the Post points out that “a range of studies show there is no evidence immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans.” Trump made no claim to the contrary – he specifically spoke about illegal immigrants crossing our Southern border. As the Post states:
Trump’s campaign pointed to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which tracks citizenship of offenders in federal prisons by primary offense, which is the offense with the longest maximum sentence when a person is convicted of multiple offenses. Of 78,022 primary offense cases in fiscal year 2013, 38.6 percent were illegal immigrant offenders. The majority of their cases (76 percent) were immigration related. Of total primary offenses, 17.6 percent of drug trafficking offenses and 3.8 percent of sex abuse were illegal immigrants. Of 22,878 drug crime cases, 17.2 percent were illegal immigrants.
The Post argues, however, that federal prisoners were just 10 percent of those in jail, and says that according to the Congressional Research Service, “Non-citizens make up a smaller percentage of the inmate population in state prisons and jails, compared to their percentage to the total US population.” But the CRS has to rely on census data for immigration status, and all immigration status is self-reported in the census, meaning that illegal immigrants are dramatically undercounted.
Then the Post sets up even more of a straw man: they cite the Congressional Research Service stating that “the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants” are not “aggravated felons.” Nobody, including Trump, claimed that they were, because that would be patently insane.
The Post admits that “inmate legal status is not always tracked at local jails or state prisons.” But that doesn’t stop them from concluding:
Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public perception that crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration. But that is a misperception; no solid data support it, and the data that do exist negate it. Trump can defend himself all he wants, but the facts just are not there.
This, however, is false. There are countervailing facts supporting the notion that illegal immigration and crime are linked. As I wrote yesterday:
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.
I also quoted The Atlantic stating just this week that illegal immigrant crime is dramatically underreported thanks to fear of deportation:
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.
And here’s Judicial Watch on border crime:
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.
The real question that should be asked is why the federal and state governments have no information on the most easily-garnered information available: are criminals in state custody here legally or not? What are their places of origin? We don’t have those statistics because the government refuses to keep them, specifically so they can make counterintuitive claims about crime and illegal immigrants. Instead, we have to use the only statistics available, like the ones that show that “illegal immigrants…represented 36.7 percent of federal sentences in FY 2014 following criminal convictions.” Illegal immigrants, according to Caroline May of Breitbart News, “represented 16.8 percent of drug trafficking cases, 20.0 percent of kidnapping/hostage taking, 74.1 percent of drug possession, 12.3 percent of money laundering, and 12.0 percent of murder convictions.” May concludes:
Eliminating all immigration violations, illegal immigrants would account for 13.2 percent of all the offenders sentenced in FY14 following federal criminal convictions — still greater than the 3.5 percent of the population illegal immigrants are said to make up.
Similarly, May writes, “In 2013 the Obama administration released 36,007 criminal immigrants who had nearly 88,000 convictions. Those convictions included 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions, and 1,075 aggravated assault convictions.” More than 347,000 such convicts are at large in the United States.
We give the Washington Post’s fact-checking Four Pinocchios.
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.