Using Immigrant Crime Statistics Is Racist

Los Angeles March for Immigrant RightsWe all know that undocumented immigrants commit less serious crime than native-born Americans. We know it from tons of articles like this one in The Washington Post, Two Charts Demolish the Notion That Immigrants Here Illegally Commit More Crime. Nonetheless, conservatives treat this the same way they do global warming by claiming that “we just don’t know!” But we do. There is no question. But fighting about this is a real problem.

When we bring up the fact that statistically undocumented immigrants commit less crime than natives, we are accepting the racist framing of the conservatives. We are implicitly claiming that if immigrants committed less crime the conservatives would be right to be concerned. We would, in other words, be treating immigrants as a monolith — as though individuals were simply representatives of their demographic.

I have no memory of anyone on the left bringing up low crime rates among undocumented immigrants as a reason for accepting them. So it isn’t like leftists are out in the world pushing this point. Instead, our acceptance of immigrants is based on humanism, inclusivity, and egalitarianism. Conservatives are, in general, against these things. More important in modern America, conservative politicians can demagogue the fear that conservatives naturally have of outsiders.

Fighting Racism With Racism?

But this puts leftists who wish to support immigrants into a difficult situation. Conservatives bring up the subject. They state what they “know” in their gut (which isn’t true): immigrants commit more crime. And leftists almost automatically correct this error: no, immigrants commit less crime as demonstrated by studies in Cato Institute, Criminology Journal, and Justice Quarterly.

It doesn’t matter. As in the link at the top, people like Tucker Carlson just ignore them. I hear conservatives repeat this nonsense as much today as I did a decade ago. No amount of data will change it because they “know” that it is true. And even if it weren’t true, they don’t care. They hate immigrants. It’s obvious today as the Trump administration tries to reduce the amount of legal immigration. But back in 2013, I wrote Conservatives Hate All Immigration. Nothing has changed except that Trump has uncovered the true nature of American conservatism.

What Can We Do?

But we can’t just refuse to engage with conservatives over this nonsense. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who are not part of the racist right who do not know this. These are the people who aren’t in favor of a wall but still think there is a security crisis on the border — that’s 12 percent of Americans!

I really don’t have a good answer for this. When your opponent won’t accept facts and has no shame, it puts you in a difficult position.

But I do know how I’ll counter this in the future. I’ll say, “The data is unequivocal: undocumented immigrants commit significantly less violent crime and overwhelmingly less property crime. But that isn’t the issue. That’s a racist way to look at it. I certainly wouldn’t tar you as a violent criminal just because some Americans are. So why do you want to do this to immigrants?”

Yeah, I understand: that kind of aggressive argumentation doesn’t work. But I wouldn’t be saying it for the bigot in front of me. They are hopeless. I’d be saying it for any reasonable people who might be listening. Slowly, these people might learn that immigrants commit less crime and that immigrants are individuals and not just representatives of their demographic.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Using Immigrant Crime Statistics Is Racist

  1. I was reading this “interview locals” piece about federal employees who are fine with the shutdown. One said “I’ve seen what opiates have done to our community, we need to stop these smugglers.”

    What can you say? That most opiates come from your friendly doctor? That most illegal drugs come in through regular border crossings? Some people are simply more susceptible to fearmongering than any appeal to reason. They’ve supported our drug laws for years. They bought that Saddamn Hussein was going to nuke us (twice!) Before that, the Sandinistas we’re coming for our freedoms, or something.


    • I think a person like this has different reasons for supporting the wall but they know that saying “I hate spics” would sound bad. And even if this guy really believes his opioid story, I’m sure that deep down it is fear of or animosity toward brown-skinned people. I’ve gotten so much more cynical over the last 2 years…

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