Here I was all set to spend the morning finishing up a post that drills down on the new U.S. trade figures when I found myself caught up in a heated Twitter debate on the threats posed by illegal alien criminality. In this exchange, the “other side” repeated yet again a fundamental mistake of those who dismiss such talk as racism and xenophobia. Specifically, it used statistics that, as I’ve noted, some insightful immigration policy critics have explained are largely beside the point. But since I also committed a minor journalistic sin, it’s worth discussing these issues in detail.
It all began last night when I was reading over a new Washington Post editorial (predictably) slamming Donald Trump’s new immigration plan as a disaster. In the process, the Post argued that Trump’s deportation views (which as I reported were not contained in the plan itself but expressed in an interview televised on Sunday) made no sense because of the Republican presidential candidate’s promise to “bring them back rapidly, the good ones.” The editorial decried the illogic allegedly demonstrated by Trump by claiming that the vast majority of America’s current illegal population is law-abiding and otherwise upstanding. Therefore, deporting them only to let them promptly return would represent a huge and hugely economically disruptive waste of time and resources.
The Post has the logic right, as I see it. But what’s much stranger was the evidence it cited that “about 87 percent” of U.S. illegals “have no serious criminal record.” It’s strange – to say the least – because one of the paper’s main editorial writers on the subject, Charles Lane, has rejected the idea that illegal immigrant crime is “a real issue” (though he has acknowledged that the sanctuary city movement has gone too far). Yet now the paper seems to have implicitly admitted that Washington’s failures on this front have allowed into the country 1.3 million individuals who are arguably big threats to public safety (based on its estimate of an illegals population of 10 million).
The Post editorialists, in other words, were ignoring an indictment of current (and more lenient future) immigration policies that’s (understandably) been resonating with great shares of the American electorate: The federal government has paid too little attention to ensuring that these policies make the country’s existing population more secure, not less.
But this is where my mistake came in: I relied on the Post‘s description of the above data, rather than reading the report in which it first appeared. As a result, doing the subtraction, I tweeted that 13 percent of America’s illegal immigrants have serious criminal records. Mother Jones reporter Kevin Drum correctly pointed out that the study itself – put out by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) – did not peg the share of U.S. illegals with serious criminal records at 13 percent, and he was right. That figure covered the number of illegals the Institute judged would be considered “enforcement priorities” under the Obama administration’s latest guidelines.
According to MPI, this category also includes arguably less dangerous folks – namely, 60,000 illegals who have violated judicial removal orders issued since the start of 2014, and 640,000 members of this population who have entered the country illegally since then. Rounding out this enforcement priority group are the crooks – 690,000 resident illegal aliens who “have previously been convicted of a felony of serious misdemeanor.”
So I definitely should have been more thorough, and if I was, I would have seen that the illegal alien criminal population was 690,000, not the 1.3 million cited by the Post, and that the criminal proportion of the total illegals population was 6.3 percent, not 13 percent. (Actually, MPI’s math adds up to 1.39 million illegals in the enforcement priority group.). But even if MPI is correct (and it should be noted that it’s been a strong advocate of more lenient immigration policies), that means that America’s border control and deportation policies have enabled 750,000 individuals with serious criminal records or who have defied court orders to stay in the country.
Therefore, the questions posed to the Institute and to Drum by that apparent reality are the same that Post editors and other supporters of illegals-friendly immigration policies need to answer: Is that kind of increased threat to public safety remotely acceptable? And are restrictionist immigration policy critics wrong to shine the spotlight on it?
Judging by MPI’s support, in the same study, for the evasive (at best) claim that illegals’ rates of criminality are “low,” it seems clear that the Institute, anyway, has decided to fuel obfuscation. As long as this practice continues to be widespread among champions of more indulgent immigration policies, they can expect ever push-back from a public justifiably outraged about illegal immigrant crimes.