Three Key Facts That Undermine Trump’s Immigration Plans

By Aman Banerji, Kica Matos |

In the week since Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., we’ve seen an outpouring of support for immigrants in every corner of American life.

Americans gathered in airports across the country, waving signs and welcoming new people. Companies such as Budweiser joined in with a powerful ad that will air during the Super Bowl that reminds us of the heights immigrants can reach when given the chance to succeed.

Even the Danes, on the other side of the world, show us, how we, all of us, have so much in common, despite society trying to stuff us into boxes labeled “other.”

It’s a heartening response to the actions of Donald Trump, who in his first week as president was determined to transform hate-filled rhetoric from a xenophobic campaign into real policy priorities.

His actions on immigration so far appear to be four-pronged: (1) build a border wall; (2) extreme vetting or bans on refugees/immigrants from target nations; (3) deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible with as little due process as possible; and (4) crack down on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with Trump’s deportation plans. Yet all of his actions so far are based on faulty assumptions or straight-out lies, also known as “alternative facts” in Trumpland parlance.

Here’s the truth about immigrants and immigration:

Fact #1: Crime is circumstantial and based on socioeconomic, not genetic factors: No one race or genetic code is predisposed to commit more or less crime. The assumptions by Trump that crime is based on genetics and ethnicity are not just false, they are downright racist and imperialist. The people who risk the long and treacherous journey to enter a nation whose border is actively closed to them come here from a desire to make their lives better and that of their family.

It’s rather baffling that someone who spent so much time on the campaign trail describing the flaws of NAFTA entirely misses the relationship of such trade flows to immigration. Trump’s actions around special techniques for surveillance, monitoring, list building, and vetting of immigrants and Muslims makes clear this set of assumptions. Equally, his focus on genetics and religion as the natural architects of crime helps to explain why his list of countries on which to enact severe immigration restrictions/bans (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan) are simply majority Muslim nations, rather than places that bear any real connections to past perpetrators of terrorism in the States.

Fact #2: Other Americans commit more crimes than immigrants: Trump’s second assumption flows from the first: demarcating law-abiding white Americans from criminally-inclined bodies of color. Actually, immigrants, documented and undocumented, commit far less crime than other groups. Census data from 1980 to 2010 show immigrants are “half to one fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.” Reams of other data make a similar point. Sanctuary cities, for example, have 35 fewer crimes per 100,000 people than other cities, and a Pew Research Center report that highlights the crime rates for first generation immigrants are significantly lower than overall crime rate. The American Immigration Council says “innumerable studies” show that “immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born.” The vulnerability of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, where the smallest infraction could rip you away from your family, could provide a powerful explanation behind such lower crime numbers. Clearly, the real story about crime in the United States, that crime is largely intra-race and has been falling for decades, and that white terrorists have killed more people than jihadists, simply would not square well with any of Trump’s ideology.

Fact #3: Immigrants are as diverse as everyone else: Trump’s actions and rhetoric wrongly assume immigrants are a homogenous (and in Trump’s mind, threatening) body. In fact, just like people born in the U.S., immigrants have a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, and have their own privileges and disadvantages. While Trump’s narrative has fueled an anti-immigrant rage across race, class, and gender, his policies actually target only a small swathe of the most disadvantaged immigrants. Note the near-complete lack of policy action taken against the holders of work or student visas—the groups with significant access and class privilege in their home countries. Trump’s push for extreme vetting of refugees and people who are stateless, further reflects his desire, not just to criminalize immigrants, but discriminate against those who are most vulnerable. For the Donald, a man who consistently characterized himself as the gladiator battling for the “little guy,” this ought to be especially troubling. Yet, in this, it must be said, both right and left bear blame for failing to acknowledge the vast variations even among immigrants from similar nationalities, both in policymaking and everyday rhetoric.

Our mission now, as Americans, is to remind one another that immigrants come here striving for a better life for themselves, their families, and future generations. It is a story as old as the founding of our country and one we must continue to uphold despite the president’s base assumptions.

Aman Banerji is a Senior Program Associate at Roosevelt. Follow him on Twitter at @amanwebelievein.

Kica Matos is the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change Action. She has spent a career advocating for the rights of people of color and all marginalized communities.