Anti-Immigrant Propaganda Won't Stop Crime
In a series of identical and unsurprising letters, the U.S. Justice Department has told local officials to be sure to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration issues. The federal government should expect nothing less. What accompanied the letters, however, was more disturbing.
The letters, signed by acting assistant attorney general Alan Hanson, were sent last week to "alert" various mayors, county and state officials of their obligation to prove that they are properly sharing information with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Fair enough. But at the same time, the department issued a press release stating that not only were the targeted cities potentially violating the law, "many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime."
This last bit of editorial comment bears scrutiny. There is no evidence linking illegal immigration to increased violent crime -- in fact, most credible studies have concluded that immigrants are less prone to commit violent crime than native-born Americans. Furthermore, no amount of law enforcement can eliminate the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants, a population about the size of Ohio's. And the deep roots that many undocumented immigrants have in U.S. communities -- most have been in the U.S. for more than a decade -- makes the administration's failure to differentiate actual criminals from nonviolent residents especially cruel.
Chicago, one of the cities that received a letter, does have an unusually high crime rate. But it is largely due to concentrated gang violence, not illegal immigration. New York City, another target, has one of the nation's largest immigrant populations, both legal and undocumented. But its crime rate has hovered near record lows for years. Nonetheless, the Justice Department falsely claimed that the city has a high crime rate and "continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's 'soft on crime' stance."
Immigration is a complex issue, economically as well as culturally. Some of President Donald Trump's immigration policies will be harmful; others will be helpful. Regardless of its policies, the administration has an obligation to deal with the facts as they are, not resort to bogus claims designed to exploit fear and incite anger.
Trump ran for president promising a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and it's his right -- as matter of policy as well as politics -- to pursue it. In that pursuit, however, the Trump administration can't seem to quit the noxious habits of the Trump campaign, when the candidate spread falsehoods about the rise of crime in America and repeatedly implied that immigrants are a cause of this fabricated spike.
Yoking the Justice Department to this fraudulent crusade could have profound consequences for U.S. policy and civic life. When the institutions of law enforcement are corrupted by political agendas, the results are invariably catastrophic.
--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman
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