“Our current immigration system jeopardizes our national security and puts American communities at risk.”
Every president has used the “threat to national security” to bolster political standing and support, but this administration is doing so to an unprecedented degree, especially with the issue of immigration. It consistently claims that refugees pose a security threat, a claim that it has been kept alive by dismissing an intelligence assessment in 2017 that showed that refugees did not present a significant threat to the United States. This intelligence assessment was replaced by one supporting the administration’s claims.
In addition to the threat from refugees, they say that undocumented immigrants from Central America are responsible for the growth of MS-13. This gang originated in Los Angeles, and was formed by children of refugees fleeing El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. In fact MS-13 is not a large street gang or even among the biggest in the country. The share of undocumented immigrants in the past few years that can be linked to MS-13, is minuscule because most MS-13 members were already living in the United States and joined because of social conditions or life events.
Linking immigrants to crime, and thus making them a threat to public safety, is sometimes hard to refute as nationwide crime statistics broken down by immigration status are not readily available. This makes it easier to “cherry-pick” facts to fit an argument. One example is the administration citing statistics on violent crime committed by all non-citizens and claiming those statistics prove they are a security threat. However, these statistics do not compare the crime figures for immigrants to crime figures committed by native-born residents. Another statistic the administration uses is that one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, and the vast majority of those are in the United States illegally. The nature of the crimes the majority of immigrants in federal prison have committed, however, are crimes that only immigrants can be charged with, such as illegal entry and illegal entry after removal.
A counterargument to linking immigration to crime can be found in academic literature. Robert Adelman, University at Buffalo, and Lesley Reid, University of Alabama state, “The most striking finding from our research is that for murder, robbery, burglary and larceny, as immigration increased, crime decreased, on average, in American metropolitan areas.” Similar work by Charis E. Kubrin, University of California, Irvine, and Graham Ousey, College of William and Mary, agrees with this conclusion.
Academic research, statistics and government rhetoric aside, it is a widely held belief in this country that immigrants commit more crime than native-born people, a belief that has grown with each succeeding wave of immigrants. From the Irish and Chinese immigrants, to Italians, Mexicans and those from Latin America, we have translated this belief into public policy that made crime control a leading objective of immigration regulation. This objective is enforced mainly with deportation, the physical removal of an immigrant from the country, a practice we can trace back to the history of “transportation.” And the agency responsible for enforcement is ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a law enforcement agency and a division of Department of Homeland Security.
Change in Government’s View of Immigration
ICE was formed following the attacks on September 11, 2001. Its role is to enforce the immigration laws of the United States and to “investigate criminal and terrorist activity by foreign nationals residing in the United States.” ICE’s establishment had to do with terrorism, but it also represents a change in the US government’s view of immigrants. Immigration matters once handled by the Department of Commerce, then the Department of Labor, are today the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.
Deportations by ICE increased during the Obama administration, but concentrated on criminals, national security threats, and immigrants who recently arrived illegally. President Trump’s administration also targets immigrants with final orders of removal, an order from a judge that a person can be deported and has no more appeals left. “A final order of removal is absolutely not indicative of a person’s threat to public safety,” said former Obama administration ICE chief and DHS counsel John Sandweg. “You cannot equate convicted criminals with final orders of removal.” This addition to the policy of ICE deportations has given us headlines with heart-wrenching cases of family separation, and, with no other recourse, immigrants have filed a lawsuit to keep immigration officials from deporting them while they seek legal residency.
An additional policy change seeks to “supercharge” the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in federal immigration enforcement. The administration has proposed plans to aggressively promote this around the country and threatened to withhold federal grants from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions—states, cities or other entities that prohibit or limit law enforcement from cooperating with ICE.
Focusing our attention on national security and crime allows us to overlook the security issues and threats facing immigrants. Large number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are fleeing persecution, or gang or drug violence. They are robbed by “jackals” and are dying in transit across our Southern deserts or packed into overheated trailers. And they face family separation, discrimination and hate crimes when they arrive in this country.
The USA has for decades been unable to agree on immigration reform. There are legitimate questions and concerns on both sides of the debate, but until we stop shouting across a hate-filled divide, start bringing all the facts to the table, and treat everyone involved with compassion and dignity, we will continue to muddle along, and solve nothing.
—Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair