Immigration: Stretching Statistics

Posted: May 07, 2009 3:08 PM
Immigration: Stretching Statistics

In the movie American History X, Edward Norton stars as the neo-Nazi skinhead leader Derek Vineyard. In one scene, he gives a speech against illegal immigration. Rather than scream racial slurs against Mexicans, Derek comments on the fiscal costs of immigration, and its effect on wages and crime. Enraged by his speech, his followers go on to brutally attack. One critic found his argument “disturbingly persuasive,” and lamented that the filmmakers did not do enough to counter Derek’s rhetoric. But, whether they intended it or not, the writers of American History X countered anti-illegal immigration views in the same manner of many pro-immigration advocates today: Instead of addressing the facts and arguments of their opponents, they imply that even thinking about the issue will lead to violence against immigrants.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama accused Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh of “feeding a kind of xenophobia.” He added that their broadcasts were a “reason why hate crimes against Hispanic people doubled last year.” These claims are used to justify the current hate crimes legislation.

The Department of Homeland Security recently came under a great deal of criticism for its report “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Among the potential terrorists were opponents of illegal immigration. The report notes that “prominent civil rights organizations have observed an increase in anti-Hispanic crimes over the past five years.” Although it did not say which organizations made these claims, organizations like the National Council of La Raza, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center have made such claims.

I was a target of this hysteria earlier this year when The New York Times editorial page responding to my prosaic analysis of immigration and the 2008 election by calling me a “white supremacist” and tying my rhetoric to the murder of a Hispanic.

These incredibly harsh accusations put forth by the advocates of liberal immigration policy are based on outright falsehoods. The FBI found only 745 anti-Latino hate crimes nationwide in 2007—when opposition to illegal immigration was front and center of the national debate—down from 770 in 2006. In fact anti-Hispanic hate crimes per capita dropped 18% over the last decade.

Most of these hate crimes were for minor offenses, such as graffiti or name-calling, with only 145 aggravated assaults, two murders, and no rapes in 2007. To put this in perspective, former Hudson Institute economist Ed Rubenstein conservatively estimates illegal aliens murder at least 949 people a year. (No federal agency keeps records on immigrant crime.)

There is also no evidence that hate crimes are motivated by the immigration control movement. Those who claim there’s a connection cannot point to a single significant commentator or politician who has advocated violence against Latinos. Nor can they find a single hate crime committed by their followers.

Although whites are the vast majority of listeners of conservative talk radio and television, they committed only 52 percent of hate crimes against Latinos—a percentage well below their proportion of 66 percent of the population. Moverover, Los Angeles County classified 42% of black-on-Hispanic hate crimes as “gang related.” This is not to suggest that blacks cannot be racist, but it is unlikely that the Bloods and Crips only decided to attack Hispanics after they listened to Rush Limbaugh.

The 2008 murder of Jose Osvaldo Sucuzhanay in Brooklyn by black men who targeted him because they mistook him as gay was denounced as a significant anti-Hispanic anti-immigrant hate crime. The New York Times ran over three dozen stories about this, including an editorial calling it a “lynching.” Even when they were at large, the race of the killers was rarely mentioned.

Attempting to understand who commits what “hate crime” is made even more problematic because of the way the FBI collects statistics. Latinos are technically not a race, but an ethnic group; and the FBI only lists Black, White, and Asian as the perpetrators—with all Hispanics being treated as white. This most likely is the reason why the FBI recorded 164 anti-white hate crimes perpetrated by “whites.”

The groups that perpetuate misconceptions about anti-Latino hate crimes make no secret of their goals. They want supporters of immigration control silenced because, in the words of La Raza president Janet Mugaria, “We have to draw the line on freedom of speech, when freedom of speech becomes hate speech.”

These organizations run relentless smear campaigns accusing virtually all opponents of illegal immigration—no matter how nuanced or tempered—of hate speech that must not be allowed on the airwaves, in print, or in front of Congress.

Before taking such draconian steps, we should at least get our facts straight.

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