On Tuesday, the Supreme Court reversed a Ninth Circuit Court decision and ruled that the Department of Homeland Security may detain convicted criminal immigrants without bond after they’ve served their prison sentences and are awaiting deportation.
This decision will make it easier to deport the small number of violent criminal immigrants — something that people on all sides of the immigration debate support.
Unfortunately, President Trump has conflated opposition to his immigration policies with support for violent criminal immigrants. These people are “weak on Crime and the Border,” says Trump. They “want to open our borders to a flood of deadly drugs and ruthless gangs.” Trump showcases immigrant crime anecdotes to claim, “These are the stories that Democrats and people that are weak on immigration, they don’t want to discuss, they don’t want to hear, they don’t want to see, they don’t want to talk about.”
Equating immigration and crime is an effective persuasion trick because it puts those who disagree with Trump’s immigration policy on the defensive, requiring them to explain that they (of course) oppose crime instead of spending that time making the case for immigration. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, has written a book on such Trump techniques, aptly titled “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter.”
Yet these claims are untrue. Those who oppose Trump’s immigration policy also oppose crime. We just believe that there’s a better way to achieve this shared goal of securing the border.
Start with the scale of the problem. Out of the 311,000 illegal immigrants who were apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol in 2017, just 228 were arrested as members of the gang MS-13, who Trump claims “infest” the country. Among illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol between October 2015 and May 2018, just 13 had been convicted of murder or manslaughter. “The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people,” said former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly. “They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13.”
That’s not to say there is no security threat at the border. The recent surge in peaceful (largely family) migrants has diverted border agents’ attention away from potential security threats. “Agents are being assigned to areas that are not border security-related,” says agent Manuel Padilla, something that many officials worry violent criminals may try to exploit.
But the best way to increase border security is not with a border wall, which is a band-aid solution that does not address the underlying cause of migration and is not stopping migrants right now in areas where it already exists. The better way to make the border safer is by increasing legal immigration pathways for migrants, so Border Patrol and ICE can go after real threats, not those who are merely seeking to pursue the American Dream in the same way as our forefathers.
At the moment, there are virtually no legal pathways for less-skilled immigrants to enter the country legally to work. The visas that do exist are bureaucratic, expensive, and quota-driven. There is no “line.” That leaves those who want or need to the U.S. with no other choice but to come illegally.
A market-based work visa system, which would allow migrants with job offers and completed criminal background checks, to enter the U.S. legally would relieve the pressure at the border and allow Border Patrol agents to redirect their attention to those who deserve it: criminals, gang members, and drug dealers.
As Tufts University International Law Professor John Cerone puts it, “The only way to effectively reduce irregular migration is to give people some hope of regular migration. Give them the opportunity to migrate pursuant to law, through regular legal pathways.” Cerone continues: “Regular migration avoids the problem of bolstering organized crime. Regular migration creates greater transparency. It allows for proper security assessments.”
Immigration proponents with this view should not be tarred as weak on crime. Trump’s rhetoric to the contrary, everyone in the immigration debate opposes the tiny numbers of violent criminal immigrants entering or remaining in the U.S. It’s just that pro-immigration advocates contend more legal immigration is the centerpiece of the solution to achieve this common goal.
Jordan Bruneau is a senior policy analyst at the Becoming American Initiative, a group dedicated to promoting the positive impact that immigrants have on society.