For the past several months, the GOP has been attempting to whip up hysteria in America over illegal Mexican immigrants; using inflammatory terms such as drug pushers, rapists, murderers, and worse. Why? What could be causing the GOP to make such extreme statements, and how could they possibly believe it will increase their chances of reclaiming the White House?

The purpose of this article is to address the objective facts as to whether Mexican immigrants are taking our jobs, selling illegal drugs to our children, raping our women, and murdering innocent people. Should America shut down the Mexican border, and triple down on our border enforcement? Is the GOP right or is its political strategy highly misplaced?

Issue #1: What is Driving Mexicans to Cross the Border?

According to WikiPedia, the overall poverty rate in Mexico is 44.2%. Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. The bottom ten percent of the income population uses 1.36% of the country’s resources, whereas the upper ten percent uses 36%. Mexico’s budgeted expenses for poverty alleviation and social development is about a third of the OECD average.

In addition to the economic factors pulling Mexicans and similarly situated Hispanics to the United States, there are other factors pushing them away from Mexico and Central America. One particularly horrifying example is widespread sexual and domestic abuse in Latin America as well as drug-related violence in southern Mexico and Guatemala. According to a 2014 report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 70% of children arriving at the U.S. border are trying to escape abusive home situations.  In Honduras alone, domestic assault is the second most common cause of death among young women. Immigrants from that region are also fleeing the wars between various drug lords and even violence at the hands of law enforcement officers who are supposed to be protecting them.

Issue 2: Are Mexican Immigrants More Likely to Commit Crimes?

A little over a year ago, an article appeared in the American Law and Economics Review. The author, Aaron Chalfin, holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and is currently Research Director for Crime Lab New York. His peer-reviewed paper addressed a number of issues related to immigration from Mexico, including demographics, regional origin, income and attachments to the communities in which they live.

Citing several previous studies, Chalfin wrote:

the consensus in the empirical literature is that immigrants to the United States are, at worst, no more likely to participate in criminal activity than U.S. natives and, at best, may be far less likely to participate in crime.

Chalfin concluded: “[The] evidence suggests that Mexican immigration tends to be associated with neither higher nor lower levels of overall crime.” While he did find a connection between Mexican immigration and “a modest increase in robberies,” Chalfin wrote the association was driven by crime statistics from Los Angeles, and therefore appeared to be a localized phenomenon.

Another article, posted by the American Immigration Council in 2013, showed that while immigration has greatly increased over the previous two decades the overall crime rate has decreased significantly across the nation. This is true in cities near the Mexican border or with large Hispanic populations such as San Diego, Los Angeles, El Paso and Miami. One of the studies cited found that:

incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.

At the same time, young men born in the U.S. (age 18-39) were five times more likely to wind up behind bars than their immigrant counterparts.

Issue 3: Do American Citizens Wish to Deport Illegal Mexican Immigrants?

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center indicates that 72% of Americans agree that undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship or legal permanent resident status. By party affiliation, 80% of Democrats, 72% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans believe that undocumented immigrants should be offered opportunities to remain in this country legally.

That may seem like heartening news. However, as always, the devil is in the details. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans believe that immigrants are a “burden on the country.” To them, immigrants are competing with citizens and legal residents for jobs, housing, health care and other resources. Forty-two percent of Republicans want to see greater restrictions on legal immigration.

Certain GOP leaders (such as Scott Walker, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump) are trying to exploit this Republican held view on immigration to rile their base. Others, like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal – all offspring of immigrant parents themselves – want to make legal immigration easier. Jeb Bush’s wife was born in Mexico, and certainly should be appalled by Trump’s statements.

Issue 4: Is the GOP Attack on Mexican Immigrants a Good Strategy?

At present, it’s the anti-immigration, GOP candidates that have the loudest voice. However, with 86% of Hispanics supporting legal immigration, and three swing states with large Hispanic populations (Colorado, Florida and Nevada) at stake, this anti-Mexican strategy cannot play out well if the GOP really hopes to win the White House. Even the Wall Street Journal has questioned whether such an attack could be devastating to the GOP.

As detailed in the WSJ:

In 2012, Mitt Romney won a whopping 59% of the white vote, more than either John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004. But Mr. Romney won only 17% of the non-white vote, less than either Mr. McCain in 2008 or Mr. Bush in 2004. Net result: comfortable Democratic win.

Fast forward to 2016, when the white share of the vote will be smaller and the Hispanic share larger . . . a Republican who wins the same 59% share of the white vote that Mr. Romney took will have to take 30% of the non-white vote—almost twice the share Mr. Romney took—to win the election.

Conclusion

Immigration is not a new issue. Humans have been migrating from place to place for millennia. The movement of people from one place to another is driven by one of two factors (and sometimes both): they are either seeking a better life, or they are fleeing detrimental conditions.

Politicians have been using the issue of immigration to advance their agenda almost as long as there have been nation-states. Sometimes immigrants have been welcomed, provided they’re willing to assimilate. Other times, they have been vilified and used as scapegoats.

The United States has been a long experiment in trying to create a heterogeneous society. It has drawn a wide diversity of peoples from virtually every other nation on earth. Almost every immigrant group that arrived after the first English settlers has had to fight for its place in the new nation. And yet, every one of these groups has made its own unique contribution. Relationships between various groups have not always gone smoothly. It has taken time – but all-in-all, despite some recent backsliding and a few dinosaur-like individuals determined to divide us, we as a nation are gradually coming together while retaining our unique cultural identities. Ultimately, we are all better for it.

Hopefully, all of the GOP presidential candidates will realize this, as there is no way they can win the White House by alienating such as large and important voting bloc of America.

 

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.