Opinion: The myth of the immigrant criminal

Ore Obiwumi

In what is unfortunately the current American political climate, immigration is consistently a topic of major contention.
For a nation with such a rich history of legal and illegal immigration, it is unfortunate, though unsurprising, that we have fallen into the nationalist trap of believing that some immigrants constitute the “real” America, while others are simply “other.”
One could even argue that our current president won the election in large part because of his radical views on immigrants and immigration.
We’ve all heard the idea that immigrants, particularly those who come to this country illegally, are all criminals who came to the United States with the purpose of committing crimes. We’ve heard our president claim that immigrants, specifically Mexican immigrants, are rapists and murderers who come to the United States in order to sell drugs.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, a sizable portion of the American electorate sees immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, as a scourge on the American people.
Yet, studies do not corroborate such ideas. So much of our political discourse this election cycle revolved around immigration, and a great deal of that discourse was a fear mongering that suggested that “real” Americans are surrounded by “the illegals,” who wished nothing more than to cause them harm.
Fortunately, this simply is not true. For one, there are not nearly as many immigrants in the United States as most people estimate. According to the Migration Policy Institute, only about 13 percent of Americans are immigrants, and only about three percent of U.S. residents are undocumented immigrants.
We’ve also been spoon-fed the myth that immigrants are more prone to crime than are native citizens. This has also been proven false.
In fact, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than are their native born counterparts; they make up less than 5 percent of convicted criminals, according to CNN.
These, combined with the fact that the majority of undocumented immigrants do, in fact, pay taxes, and the fact that they are unable to benefit from welfare programs, show that immigrants are not the scourge that many right wing politicians have shown them to be.
Immigrants are a large and diverse group of people, and while some might be unsavory, there is no evidence that suggests that all or most are.
A large portion of the American electorate fell into the nationalist trap in 2016, electing a president whose central campaign theme was an overwhelmingly negative view of immigrants.
But in 2017, it is important that we recognize the criminal immigrant myth for what it is. Immigrants are not some “other” group of people separate from the “real” America. They are and have always been an integral thread in the American fabric, and we ought to treat them that way.

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