Immigration and crime: Facts vs. fiction

President Trump has focused on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, but how serious is the problem really?

ST. PETERSBURG — Remember this?

“We must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE. Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”

That was President Trump during his first address to Congress.

Just last week he made good on his word - spending your tax dollars to open a new office for victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

This is something we need to talk about. Immigration, crime and President Trump.

And you might not think this this matters to you -- but it does. There are millions of immigrants in this country -- documented or not. They are your neighbors. You may work with them. Your kids may go to school with them.

We're going to take a hard look at your assumptions about immigrants

Meet Marisel. She's your neighbor -- a U.S. citizen in Tampa Bay. And her undocumented father is in the process of being deported right now.

“How are you holding up?” I asked.

“Well, I'm trying my best to hold on, because I'm doing it for my mom,” she replied.

“Um ... I'm trying really hard, but I don't want him to leave,” she said through her tears. “He works every day to give us everything we need. He's a really loving father.”

Marisel's dad is in the hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement because someone rear-ended him. He was scared of the cops -- no papers remember? -- and he left before they got there.

Now, his wife is without a husband, his kids without a father.

I’ve been talking to you about this online all week long.

I got hundreds of your comments.

A lot of you didn't even know the VOICE office was open.

Immigration was a centerpiece of President Trump’s campaign -- be it the wall or calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.

“They're bringing crime, they're rapists and some I assume are good people,” Mr. Trump said.

Get the bad hombres out, remember?

“We have some bad hombres here, and we're gonna get 'em out,” Mr. Trump said in a national debate.

But I wanted to find out: is the new office focused on victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants really necessary?

How many immigrants are criminals? How much crime do they commit?

I've been taking a hard look at the numbers and here's what I've found.

Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born U.S. citizens.

They're in jail less than people born in the U.S.

That's the conclusion from no fewer than four credible in-depth studies, data from the Department of Justice, the Police Foundation and more that I reviewed.

Take this study published by the National Institutes of Health.

Immigrants of all ethnicities are less likely to commit violent crimes than U.S.-born citizens.

Latin American immigrants are close to three times less likely to commit violent crimes.

“We see a real clear pattern where immigrants are substantially less likely to be involved in a whole wide array of violent and antisocial behaviors compared to those born in the United States,” said Boston University professor and study co-author Christopher Salas-Wright.

How about this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research? It says immigrants have much lower jail rates - like one-fifth the rate of people born here.

Or even this one from libertarian think tank the CATO institute. It shows 92 percent of people locked up in prisons today were born here. Less than 6 percent are undocumented immigrants.

And here’s the thing -- undocumented immigrants make up less of the prison population than they “should” based on how many are in the U.S. It's disproportionately small.

So, this whole office for victims of undocumented immigrant crime: what is it going to do?

“This is ultimately instilling that hatred that we want to stop,” said Linesch Firm immigration attorney Daniela Carrion. “This is the beginning of Trump's administration attempting to continue to brainwash the society into thinking that immigrants are bad.

"The Department of Justice has a crime victim unit, and its only purpose is to advocate for victims. All victims. So, recreating the program now, ultimately, what does that give a victim that they wouldn't have otherwise through the Department of Justice? Nothing. Except the name. Undocumented Criminal,” Carrion said.

A map from the Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks hate groups in the United States shows that out of the 917 active hate groups in the country, there are 13 white nationalist and anti-immigrant hate groups right here in the Bay area and Orlando.

So, will an office focusing on people victimized by a relatively small group of undocumented criminals, will that embolden these hate groups near you and me to focus on the vast majority of non-violent immigrants?

“The idea of highlighting immigrant crime is one that comes right out of the White Nationalist playbook,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich. “There’s no question that the VOICE office is trying to equate immigrants with bad. And it’s very dangerous.”

Will the VOICE office help people? I'm sure it will -- undocumented immigrants do commit violent crimes. And no one I talked to thinks violent undocumented criminals should stay.

The fact is, if you want to make a dent in crime, you might want to start with people who were born here.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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