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WASHINGTON (Map, News) - The politics of fear and prejudice are front and center. Conservative politicians and talk show hosts can’t seem to get enough of it.
Two unrelated, random crimes on opposite sides of the country are the genesis of the latest wave of immigrant-bashing — a gangland-style execution of three college students in Newark, N.J., and the slaying of a 15-year-old girl in Oregon.
One of the suspects in the Newark case is an undocumented resident from Peru who was out on bail on a serious felony charge at the time of the crime. Both suspects in the Oregon case are noncitizens, one of whom has a DUI conviction and the other a clear record. The two cases are fueling unwarranted hysteria against immigrants.
There is no immigrant crime wave in the United States. Statistics prove it. In June, as it does every year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its “Report on the Number of Prison and Jail Inmates.”
As of June 2006, there were more than 2.25 million federal and state inmates. Just 4 percent — fewer than 100,000 — were noncitizens, a group that includes both those here legally and those here without proper documentation. While there were 331 more noncitizen inmates in 2006 than 2005, that number was still 700 less than in 2004.
In 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, young foreign-born men were five times less likely to be incarcerated than those born in the U.S, accounting for only 4 percent of the prison population.
While our immigrant population has increased in the past decade, the crime rate has dropped dramatically, both for violent crimes and property crimes.
There is no correlation between where one is born and his or her propensity to commit a crime. Crime is the result of myriad conditions, from poverty to drug and alcohol abuse to a variety of other factors. Immigration is not one of them.
We have effective laws for the removal of noncitizens who are convicted of crime. Since 1996, the list of “aggravated felonies” mandating deportation has steadily grown. When a person subject to deportation is charged with a crime, the law allows for the placing of a detainer on that person so that when released from state or federal custody, whether on bail or following conviction, he or she is transported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for continued detention or to face deportation proceedings, rather than be released into the community.
Sometimes, people fall through the cracks. It may have happened in Newark and Oregon. That doesn’t mean we need different laws. It means we need to enforce the ones we have. We don’t need a “one strike, you’re out” or a no-bail policy for immigrants.
Politicians will do anything to get elected, as demonstrated by their recent and nonstop hue and cry against “sanctuary cities” and “illegal immigration.” In their demagoguery, they encourage fear, prejudice and bigotry. In their attempts to be viewed as tough on illegal immigration, they foster inaccurate stereotypes.
The vast majority of immigrants in this country, whether present with or without proper papers, are hardworking, law-abiding people with strong family ties. They are little different from the immigrants of 100 years ago. They are not stealing our jobs or draining scant public resources. They pay taxes and help make our country a better place for all of us.
Most immigrants enter the country legally. According to the INS Statistical Yearbook, 75 percent of immigrants have legal, permanent visas. Of the 25 percent who are undocumented, 40 percent overstayed temporary visas, meaning their initial entry into the country was legal.
Immigration does not breed crime. Our prisons are not overflowing because of crimes by the undocumented. They are overflowing because of our failed criminal justice policies and over reliance on incarceration versus treatment and rehabilitation with respect to our nonviolent homegrown offenders.
There is nothing wrong with having a debate about immigration. But it is deplorable to falsely stereotype and malign millions of law-abiding people because of one’s desire for a particular outcome in that debate.
That is what conservative politicians and talk show hosts are doing today. Someone needs to call them on it. Let their campaigns know you’re onto their tricks, and in the case of the talk show hosts, just change the channel. Ratings speak louder than words.
Jeralyn Merritt is a member of The Examiner’s Board of Bloggers and blogs at Talkleft.com.