Donald Trump blasted his way into the presidential race earlier this summer by appealing to the GOP’s xenophobic base and insulting immigrants — most notably, Mexican immigrants. After his disgusting campaign announcement speech where he called Mexicans “rapists” and criminals, he has since doubled down on his rhetoric again and again. America’s biggest embarrassment has traveled all across the country telling his supporters that immigrants are the biggest problem we have in this country. He claims that they are more apt to commit crimes than white America and his party’s ignorant base is lapping it up. The problem with this “criminal alien” talking point the right loves so much is that it is unequivocally false.
Shortly after Donald Trump threw his hat into the race for president and let america know that immigrants were going to be his biggest target, an undocumented immigrant shot and killed a woman in San Francisco. Trump latched onto the random act of violence and soon made it the case he would cite every time he was talking about building his Great Wall of Mexico along the border. He has led people to believe that this case proves immigrants are violent criminals and must be kept out of our country, but what he didn’t say was that the case in San Francisco is the exception, not the rule.
According to a study released by the Immigration Policy Center, immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than American citizens. Between 1990 and 2013 the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. nearly tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. If Donald Trump and the rest of the xenophobic right were correct about “criminal immigrants”, the crime rate would have shot up as the number of immigrants increased — it didn’t.
During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.
The study found that only about 1.6 percent of immigrant males are incarcerated, whereas 3.3 percent of American born males are sent to jail. Further, the rate of native-born males, who do not have a high school diploma, have an incarceration rate that is nearly triple that of Mexican immigrants:
In 2010, less-educated native-born men age 18-39 had an incarceration rate of 10.7 percent—more than triple the 2.8 percent rate among foreign-born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7 percent rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men.
In 2012, the Pew Research Center released data that showed low-income, less-educated whites are more likely to vote Republican. The more educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote for the Democratic Party. This means, that if “less-educated native-born men” are more likely to commit crimes than immigrants, we can safely assume that those American criminals are also more likely to be members of the GOP. So in reality, immigrants are not the problem in this country, Republicans are.
On top of that, white and less-educated voters make up the bulk of Donald Trump’s support base. Reuters reported that “In Fox News’ most recent poll, 30 percent of the respondents said they back Trump as the GOP nominee, compared to only 21 percent of respondents with a college degree. In CNN’s most recent poll, Trump’s favorability ratings spiked among Republicans, men, people over 50 years of age, as well as people without a university education.” It all goes to show what an empty facade the immigration debate is.
Republicans like Donald Trump target undocumented immigrants because they make for a very convenient scapegoat to pass blame on to. Who better to blame for the failure of Republican governance? It’s a tried and true tactic that leads down a very dangerous road. There are millions of families, like mine, who actively fight for immigration reform because our husbands, wives, and parents, are undocumented immigrants. We came in search of a better life, like the family of every American once did. But illegal is not a crime, borders are an artificial construct, and the geographic coordinates of one’s birthplace does not assign you an identity. The GOP must not be allowed to get away with their hateful and divisive rhetoric. As Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said recently: “the enduring symbol of our country is the Statue of Liberty- not chain link fence and barbed wire.”
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.