Facts are stubborn things, unfortunately not nearly as stubborn as factoids. And nowhere do factoids trump facts more frequently than in the immigration debate. The latest example comes from Pat Buchanan in his new book, "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America," where Buchanan regurgitates factoids ad nauseam, all with the purpose of blaming Mexicans for just about everything wrong with America.
The problem is, some of Buchanan's "facts" are mere factoids. Let's take one of the most stubborn factoids to emerge in the immigration debate, one that Buchanan cites as do other commentators: 95 percent of all the outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles, which total 1,200-1,500, are for illegal aliens. Sounds pretty damning, that is until you try to pin down where it came from and what it means.
I've been tracking this particular factoid for a while, since it crops up over and over again, and I've even exchanged e-mails with the source, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute. In 2004, Mac Donald wrote an article for the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, "The Illegal Alien Crime Wave," in which she first used this statistic.
The problem is, the Los Angeles Police Department doesn't collect information on the immigration status of criminals, much less suspects, so there is no database of how many illegal aliens are wanted on outstanding homicide warrants. When I asked Mac Donald to provide her source, she said, "The LAPD fugitive warrants section gave me that figure." I don't doubt Mac Donald's word -- she is an old friend. Someone, Mac Donald won't say who, undoubtedly gave her this misinformation. But several calls to the LAPD elicited the same response: We don't collect such information -- which was borne out by searching all available databases and talking to respected criminologists.
This particular factoid has been debunked by several sources, including the Los Angeles Times and Snopes.com, but it just won't die. And other factors make the statistic highly suspicious. In all of 2004, there were only 518 homicides in Los Angeles, suggesting that the number of outstanding warrants (no matter whom they are for) must date back over many years, unless we are to assume that all murders in 2004 were committed by at least two illegal aliens and that no one was ever been arrested for any recent homicide.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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