In recent weeks, President Trump and conservative politicians around the country have used immigration to strike fear in the hearts of voters in the buildup to tomorrow’s mid-term elections. At a Florida rally on Saturday, November 3rd, Trump told his audience:
“If Democrats get elected they will do everything in their power to dismantle ICE; they want to turn America into a giant sanctuary city for violent predators and ruthless gang members. We will keep the criminals, drug dealers, terrorists the hell out of our country.”
Similarly, in my home state of Colorado, Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton told CBS4 in an interview on September 21st, 2018 that he is committed to getting rid of sanctuary cities in Colorado:
“This comes down to a public safety issue. It is unconscionable to me that you could have somebody [like] we had in Denver who committed vehicular homicide and was charged with a felony and spent less than 14 hours in a Denver jail and was released.”
While public statements like these might appeal to voters who believe the U.S. is under siege from external threats such as migrants, there is one glaring problem with them: there is absolutely no evidence to support claims that immigrants contribute to increases in crime.
On the contrary, all reliable resources on the issue of immigration and crime point in the opposite direction. That is, immigrants contribute to reductions in crime.
In fact, as recent studies on the matter point out, violent crime in the U.S. is at its lowest point in more than 30 years. Immigrants have played a role in these reductions. Across the country, researchers find that crime rates are lowest in areas with more immigrants. And there’s a clear logic to these finds. Immigrants are the last people in the world you would expect to commit crimes. These are individuals who have sacrificed everything they own to come to the United States. The last thing they want to do is get in trouble with the law. The simple fact is, immigrants—perhaps more than anyone—contribute to making the U.S. a better country.
Immigration has always been at the heart of the American experience. This is true both culturally and economically. For example, most of us drastically underestimate the degree to which immigrant labor subsidizes the American Dream. Affordable access to homes, cars, and basic goods and services depends on cheap immigrant labor. If we decide to drastically restrict immigration and deport those without documentation, as Mr. Trump has proposed, we should brace ourselves for the prices of goods and services to go up across the board.
Why is it, then, that blaming immigrants is such a successful tactic for politicians?
Part of the issue is that we typically don’t see the contributions immigrants make because they are often working in the shadows of society. They stock groceries in the middle of the night, clear snow off the roads when everyone is huddled around the fire, prepare meals while customers sip cocktails, fold sheets in the basements of 5-star hotels while guests are out and about, and clean toilets while homeowners are away at work. Immigrants are the true invisible hand guiding the U.S. economy.
Immigrant labor plays a role in every successful business in the United States. Immigrants work in every industry imaginable, from the manual labor jobs mentioned above all the way up to senators and the Secretary of Transportation within Mr. Trump’s administration.
Sadly, President Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than anyone in history, including Donald Trump. Thus, it’s hard to argue that the Democrats would open the immigration floodgates as Mr. Trump has suggested they would. Both Democrats and Republicans have pursued draconian immigration laws in recent decades. That said, Republicans have changed the nature of the conversation by circulating false narratives and dehumanizing immigrants as criminals, rapists and gang members.
The truth is, immigrants, on average, commit far fewer crimes than U.S. citizens. On top of that, in the midst of this anti-immigrant zeal ICE has apprehended U.S. citizens and U.S. border and customs agents have refused to let some citizens back into the country upon returning from trips abroad.
So, what’s the solution?
To be clear, few are calling for completely open borders, myself included. But we need a more human approach to immigration. In particular, we need a system that recognizes the important contribution of immigrants to U.S. culture, politics, and in particular, the economy. Immigrants make us all better people and I think it’s time we start recognizing this simple, long-standing fact.
The best place to begin this process is by voting for candidates who support immigration policies that recognize immigrants as fellow humans who contribute to the greater good of our society.
Benjamin Waddell is Associate Professor of Sociology, Criminology and Borderlands at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.