But many are rushing to link this inflammatory case — before we know the facts — to the larger cause of immigration restriction. White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew the link: “Part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration such an issue is because of tragedies like this. … This is why he’s passionate about this. Because people are victims of these crimes. Immigration pays its toll on our people.” That is exploiting people’s anger, which is bad enough, and it’s false, which is worse.
There are good and bad arguments against immigration, but smearing immigrants as out-of-control criminals is shameful. High rates of immigration, legal and illegal, are not associated with spikes in crime. In our recent history, between 1990 and 2013, the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled to 11.2 million. Yet FBI data indicates that the violent crime rate declined by 48 percent during those years.
As a survey by the CATO Institute shows, immigrants — both legal and illegal — are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. And when you exclude those illegal immigrants who are jailed for immigration offenses, the numbers really plunge. Looking at the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, CATO notes that illegal immigrants are 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. Legal immigrants are 69 percent less likely to be jailed than natives. White native-born Americans are more likely to be imprisoned than black immigrants, legal or illegal.
Some immigrants commit crimes. But as the data shows, most keep their noses clean. About 7 percent of our population is comprised of non-citizens, yet they account for only 5 percent of the prison population.
The attempt to tar all immigrants with this brush — or to let emotional appeals dictate policy — is exactly what fair-minded admirers of Judge Gorsuch will resist.