You may have heard it stated as fact recently that “a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office found that illegal immigrants and other non-citizens, in our prisons and jails together, had around 25,000 homicide arrests to their names…”

This is true. But there are three important pieces of information that are left out of this claim.

1) How many of these individuals were illegally in the country (the statement lumps all non-citizens together).

2) How many were actually convicted of the crime for which they were arrested (the statement lumps together people who were jailed on suspicion of a crime and those who went to prison for being convicted of a crime).

3) How long a time period is involved.

I don’t have an answer to the first two questions this raises, though that information may be available to anyone willing to do the digging. I do have an answer to the third:

Fifty-one years.

The 25,000 arrest statistic comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for the time period between August 1955 and April 2010.

For comparison, in one year (2011), there were 11,200 arrests for homicide among the general population. (This is from the U.S. Department of Justice statistics.)

prisoner-handsWhat does that mean? It means that in a single year there were 11,200 homicide arrests, of which roughly 490 were non-citizens. 

The idea that undocumented immigrants are on a murderous spree is based on anecdotal evidence—in other words, storytelling, which as it happens, I know something about.

The scientific facts are these: A 2007 study by the American Immigration Council debunks that anecdotal material. It found that:

1) Crime rates have decreased as immigration has increased.
2) Immigrants have lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans.
3) Immigrants have lower incarceration rates than natives even among high school dropouts.

A 2013 Criminology and Delinquency study found that first-generation immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than second-generation immigrants or native-born, non-Hispanic whites.

A second claim you may have heard is that immigrants cost the economy $113 billion annually in taxes. This claim is on the Federation for American Immigration Reform website. FAIR is an anti-immigrant organization founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Call me crazy, but I doubt they are an impartial source.

The facts are these:

1) Undocumented immigrants contribute $11.64 billion annually through local and state taxes (2016 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy report).

2) Undocumented immigrants also contributed $35.1 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund between 2000 and 2011 (2015 Journal of General Internal Medicine study).

The two claims about immigrants cited above are nonfactual. So, when you hear them, source them and compare them with reality. Yes, it requires some effort and attention, but considering the stakes, is that so much to ask?

article-0-1F772E7000000578-402_634x472Some Americans are afraid of losing their lives and their money to ”illegal aliens” in part because they hear public figures they trust making and repeating statements like these, ad nauseam. We have seen, historically, how framing human issues as social problems then converting them into political ”issues” has resulted in hostility, hatred, violence, and the dehumanization and demonization of different groups within our society. Often, these are racial groups—Native Americans, Jews, Blacks, Chinese, Japanese, middle-Easterners and Hispanics. Sometimes they are religious groups: Jews, Catholics, Muslims. The language is always the same—they are an infestation, a plague, vermin. They are overrunning our borders (immigration is actually down and our borders have never been less open).

People who are afraid and angry need to be able to point to a cause—individuals or groups whose absence will be the salvation of the nation and the restoration of whatever the fearful and angry feel they have lost. As one public figure put it in reference to getting the undocumented immigrants out of our country, “The crime will stop. They’re going to be gone. It will be over.”

Yes, America. Just get rid of that group of people and crime will stop. ”It” will be over. And then what? What happens when people continue to be murdered? When crime continues to happen? What group shall we demonize next?

Look at the real figures above: 11,200 homicide arrests in one year, only 490 among non-citizens. You do the math. Crime will not stop. ”It” will not be over.

Your regular programming will now resume.


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