Immigrants tend to be more law-abiding than native-born Americans. This is true of our nation’s foreign-born citizens and noncitizens alike. Census data show that from 1980 to 2010, immigrant men aged 18 to 49 were one-half to one-fifth as likely to end up prison as their native-born peers. And while noncitizens of all ages and genders make up 7 percent of the American population, they account for only 5 percent of the incarcerated.
When undocumented immigrants do commit crimes, their victims are often undocumented immigrants. That same basic dynamic is true for virtually every subpopulation. Humans are more likely to assault, rape, and/or kill people that they know than ones they don’t — and undocumented immigrants tend to know a lot of other undocumented immigrants.
All of which is to say: Violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants against American citizens are a relatively rare phenomenon. That fact does not make individual instances of such violence less vile or tragic. But it means that there is no coherent public-safety rationale for concentrating federal resources on combating this very specific category of crime.
There is, however, a highly coherent political rationale for doing so: If you’re a reactionary nationalist looking to build popular support for your program of mass deportation, you’re gonna want to dehumanize your prospective deportees. Encouraging Americans to associate undocumented immigrants with violent crime is a handy way of doing so.
Thus, Trump’s campaign tactic of repeatedly inviting the bereaved loved ones of Americans murdered by undocumented immigrants to channel their grief into something negative at his rallies. And President Trump invited such grieving mothers and widows to attend his first congressional address. Now, his administration is opening an entire office devoted to exaggerating the amount of criminal activity for which undocumented immigrants are responsible, as the New York Times reports:
The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday announced the creation of an office to help families that have been the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, part of an effort by President Trump to aggressively crack down on illegal immigration … The office, called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or Voice, will be housed within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deportations … Officials with I.C.E. said the office would provide a hotline for victims and would be staffed by about 21 community relations officers and 27 specialists in victim assistance who would connect crime victims with other resources. Officials did not provide a budget for the office, saying it would be funded with existing resources.
Meanwhile, ICE has made many undocumented victims of domestic abuse too terrified of the government to seek the protection of our courts.