Stephen Lemons Column

When It Comes to Violent Crime, Illegal Immigrants Aren't the Problem

Despite a recent Gallup poll that shows 87 percent of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens under certain restrictions, the public dialogue on immigration continues to be driven by a billionaire blowhard and a vicious hate-monger.

I mean Republicans Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, whose know-nothing rhetoric fills the vacuum of cable news as if nothing else mattered but placing Latinos on southbound cattle cars so that all would be right with the world.

Responsible pundits tell us Trump's presidential bid eventually will fizzle, though they are hazy on when this will happen.

As for Coulter, well, venom is the lady's shtick. She and Trump are surfing a tsunami of media hype that's doomed to crash, the hoary ones tell us.

They're probably right. George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and other once-popular haters offer ample support for such a contention.

Meanwhile, every time you turn on the boob tube, the boobs reign and viewers are inundated with nativism to rival that of Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York.

The filth boils down to lies regarding the deportation of 12 million undocumented, the 14th Amendment, and "anchor babies."

And, of course, the eternal shibboleth that illegal immigrants are the harbingers of violent crime.

You can't really blame these inanities on Trump or Coulter any more than you can blame foot fungus on the foot. Nevertheless, disinfectant is required.

Take the idea of deporting 12 million people back to their home countries, a potential disaster of epic proportions.

Talk about punching the Statue of Liberty in the eye. It would confirm the worst that America's detractors have to say about us, would terrorize every brown person in the United States, and would televise worldwide weeping children and parents as they are marched away from their homes by federal agents and/or soldiers.

This sick, racist fantasy almost certainly won't happen.

But suppose the haters and The Donald somehow got their druthers. It would ripple through the U.S. economy in much the same manner that 9/11 did.

The conservative nonprofit American Action Forum, for instance, estimates that booting out these folks would take two decades and cost anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion.

In turn, mass deportation would shrink the labor force and the economy, reducing the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.6 trillion by AAF's estimate.

Equally asinine is the desire to undo birthright citizenship, as enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thereby ending the scourge (to a nativist's twisted mind) of "anchor babies," known to non-bigots as American-citizen children born in the United States to immigrant parents.

There are those who contend that the 14th Amendment, passed, ironically, by radical Republicans in the aftermath of the Civil War, was meant to apply only to freed slaves.

The plain language of the 14th Amendment argues otherwise, stating:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

The undocumented and their progeny most certainly are "subject to the jurisdiction" of U.S. laws.

Who isn't? Diplomats for one; foreign leaders for another.

During congressional debates over the 14th Amendment, no one mentioned Mexicans, say the anti-birthright nudniks.

Which is true, but Chinese subjects and "stateless" Gypsies were, and it was made clear that a child born to parents of either group would be a U.S. citizen if born on American soil.

The idea of birthright citizenship stretches back to English common law and predates the Declaration of Independence.

The only way to stop it would be via a constitutional amendment, one that would be patently un-American, upending one of the elements of this country's greatness.

Finally, we come to the most pernicious anti-immigrant argument: that illegal immigrants bring with them violent crime.

The "proof" of this assertion is by necessity anecdotal, because, as immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh of the libertarian Cato Institute tells me, studies on immigration and crime do not back up the link between crime and illegal immigrants proffered by nativists.

"Some studies find that for all immigrants in general, including illegal immigrants, the crime rate is half of what it is for native-born Americans," he said.

Nowrasteh points to a recent study published by the American Immigration Council and authored by three professors of sociology and anthropology using information gleaned from the U.S. Census.

The study states that "roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males aged 18-36" are behind bars in the U.S. compared to 3.3 percent of the corresponding group of native-born American males.

This "disparity," as the study demonstrates, "has existed for decades," back to 1980, with native-born incarceration rates anywhere from "two to five times higher than [those of] immigrants."

Most studies show the same thing. Those that do not are outliers, or worse, the work of liars.

This is why those beating the anti-immigrant drum focus on tragedies such as that of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle, killed July 1 by a stray bullet fired by a vagabond illegal immigrant who had been removed from the U.S. five times before.

Another high-profile murder exploited by Trump and his ilk is that of Marilyn Pharis, 64, raped and bludgeoned to death in late July by an illegal immigrant.

Regarding the Pharis murder, Trump tweeted the following:

"Again, [an] illegal immigrant is charged with the fatal bludgeoning of a wonderful and loved 64 year old woman. Get them out and build a WALL!"

Thing is, the vast majority of violent criminals behind bars in this country are American citizens.

For example, according to FBI crime stats for 2013, of the more than 14,000 murderers in the U.S. that year, only 1,096 (about 8 percent) were known to be Hispanic.

Of course, being Hispanic does not equate to being an illegal immigrant, but the FBI's data does not distinguish between those here illegally and those not.

Because most illegal immigrants in the U.S. are from Latin American countries, perhaps a sliver of that 8 percent is illegal.

By contrast, 9,771 murderers were either black or white, and largely U.S. citizens, we can safely presume.

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, about 90 percent of those in its custody are citizens, and about 10 percent are "criminal aliens," a category that could extend to those who were here legally.

Arizona's death row is similarly instructive.

Of 118 convicted murderers, there is only one Mexican national. Another is German, and yet another is a citizen of the Dominican Republic.

So, about 97.5 percent of those on Arizona's death row are American citizens.

About 72 percent of the total are Caucasian or African-American. Mexican-Americans account for 21 percent.

Furthermore, it could be argued — with more evidence than nativists can cite legitimately when it comes to illegal aliens committing crimes — that white males have a tendency toward mass murder.

Here's a partial roll call of infamous white, American slayers and the slain:

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, 168; Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza, 20 schoolchildren and seven adults; Dylann Storm Roof, nine churchgoers; Jared Loughner, six dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl (plus 13 injured, including former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords); James Holmes, who killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater; Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, 13 dead.

I could go on and on and include such all-American serial killers as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

All of which argues that we should remove the likes of Trump from our borders and keep those far less likely to kill and commit other crimes: illegal immigrants.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons