Trump’s Immigration Debate

Some points, which are simple but critical, get overwhelmed by rhetoric and lies. Nowhere is this truer than in the Trump Era immigration debate. To listen to the White House, virtually the entire question is one of domestic crime, gangs, and national security. That applies to border security, control over the Southern border, and monitoring of immigrants (legal or otherwise) within the United States.

There are many good or reasonable reasons for a country to control the process of immigration into its borders. Mainly those are economic – both the possible positive and negative consequences of immigration at different levels. But by and large, there is really no evidence that permissive or restrictive immigration policies have any effect on criminal activity within the United States at all. Indeed, what evidence we have suggests that immigrants and first-generation Americans are less apt to commit crimes than native-born citizens whose history in the country stretches back generations.

There are some focused exceptions. We know that the 9/11 plotters used permissive visa policies to gain plotters’ entry into the United States. Those policies are now dramatically more restrictive. U.S. Intelligence agencies keep extensive files on people associated with foreign terrorist groups or associated with those associated with them and go to great lengths to block their entry into the U.S. There are decent arguments about whether the depth of these restrictions has had negative impacts that outweigh the positive ones. There are obvious questions about whether people are targeted purely because they come from Muslim countries, etc. But in this specific case, there is at least a genuine counter-terrorism issue. On the Southern border, when it comes to immigrants, there’s just no crime or national security question at all – unless you’re defining national security in some terms of either racial or cultural terms. This fact is what has driven the fantastical idea that foreign jihadist groups are smuggling would-be terrorists over the Mexican border.

The same applies to the comical and grotesque lies about the diversity lottery program in which foreign countries are supposedly picking out their worst residents and using the lottery to ship them off to the United States.

I raise this because the immigration dialog is now so overwhelmingly about crime and national security – not ‘having a country’ if there’s not a wall, as the President puts it – that it is helpful to step back and realize there’s actually zero evidence that this whole premise has any merit or basis in fact at all. As a country, we’ve become captive to a debate about crime and national security, if only in the sense of being forced to constantly refute it. The President continually rails about rape, gang murders, destroyed families. There’s even a special White House office specifically tasked with playing up crimes where immigrants are the suspected perpetrators.

None of what I’ve written above will be a great surprise to those who pay attention to this debate. But it is worth taking a moment to recognize that this is almost the only point now being debated at all, all framed by President Trump’s campaign announcement kick off about Mexicans as rapists and killers.

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