OPINION

Opinion: As immigration debate heats up, don’t let the facts be lost in the noise

BEAVER ISLAND STATE PARK, NY - JUNE 03: U.S. Border Patrol agents talk while at a marina on the Niagara River at the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 in Beaver Island State Park, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

BEAVER ISLAND STATE PARK, NY - JUNE 03: U.S. Border Patrol agents talk while at a marina on the Niagara River at the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 in Beaver Island State Park, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

The loudest immigration soundbite in the past few weeks has been Donald Trump’s various references to Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers, killers and rapists. The entire Latino community rose up in arms in response. Businesses cut ties, networks backed out of their agreements and political pundits have had days and days of airtime. The airwaves are still jam packed with back and forth commentaries, blog posts and candidate statements on the issue.

There is no question that candidates of every stripe are seizing the opportunity to slake the media’s thirst on “criminal immigrants.” It is like a shark feeding frenzy — coinciding with last week’s Discovery Channel “Shark Week.” Trump’s statements however are not based in fact.

But here are the facts that are being ignored by most: Immigrants – including undocumented immigrants – are less likely to be criminals than the native born. Study after study demonstrates that immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes and that higher rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. 

Law enforcement cannot and should not rely on immigration status as a predictor of criminal activity because it doesn’t make any statistical or rational sense.

- Annaluisa Padilla

If you like statistics, here are a few: between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. Yet, according to analysis of data from the 2010 American Community Survey done by the American Immigration Council, “roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born. 

"This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990," the AIC survey continues, "and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants."

So that’s one set of sound bites addressed, what about another?

It’s been all over the news, helped along by Trump, the rallying cry that “Sanctuary Cities” are freeing felons. The shooting and murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco is a terrible tragedy. The incident has gripped the nation’s attention especially after it was reported that the shooter is an immigrant that San Francisco local authorities released rather than turning him over to federal immigration enforcement. 

Media outlets across the spectrum from conservative to liberal are fighting for ratings and many are exploiting this tragic incident to further anti-immigrant political agendas. This is an opportunity for our community to come together around a tragic killing rather than scapegoat immigrants who pose no threat to anyone. 

Here are the facts: As the studies previously mentioned show, immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born so immigration status is not an accurate or effective way to identify criminals or dangerous persons. Law enforcement cannot and should not rely on immigration status as a predictor of criminal activity because it doesn’t make any statistical or rational sense. Instead, cities and counties have developed policies that strengthen their communities and ensure that victims and witnesses of crimes aren’t afraid to come forward — the so-called “Sanctuary Cities”.

The reality is everyone in our community benefits from law enforcement promoting safety and security and allowing victims of crime to come forward without fear of being separated from their families or losing their businesses because of their immigration status. Our communities are safer when local and federal enforcement agencies practice smart enforcement: ensuring that dangerous convicted criminals aren’t set free without serving their time.

So before you are deafened by sound bites and dragged into the middle of a mythical immigration debate — listen up! Learn the facts, be informed and pass it on!

Annaluisa Padilla is an immigration attorney and First Vice President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

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