The writer is semi-retired and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a member of the Lincoln Downtown Rotary Club and sits on several civic and public service boards including Nebraska Appleseed.
First published as an OpEd in the Omaha World Herald, August 9, 2010.
For as long as I can remember, FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” speech has haunted me. I could not understand what he meant until the frenetic aftermath of 9/11. The response to the fear we all shared was to overreact, to propose unreasonable limits to basic freedoms, to spy on neighbors, etc.
We are now being told by many politicians and many America-first groups that undocumented immigrants are taking away our country, swamping our jails, diluting our welfare system, stealing jobs and increasing in number at an alarming rate. Laws are being passed by cities and states around the country in response to this alleged growing threat. We fear the loss of the America we love.
The truth, amazingly enough, doesn’t support the claims.
According to the 2008 Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics Yearbook (the latest available), the number of “apprehension events” where the Border Patrol apprehended individuals suspected of illegal entry peaked in 2000 at 1,676,438. In 2008 the number had dropped to 723,840.
That represents a nearly 60 percent drop in apprehensions of individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally.
One can argue, I suppose, that the last administration was so incompetent that the Border Patrol failed to detect incursions. But given the “law and order” nature of that administration, I doubt that.
Finding trustable statistics about the numbers of undocumented immigrants is tough. Numbers run from 10 million to 40 million on websites. The Washington Post on Feb. 10, 2010, indicated that the number of undocumented immigrants has dropped from 11.8 million in 2007 to 10.8 million in 2009. This does not represent alarming growth.
What about crime? Take Arizona, for example. The population of Arizona grew from 5,130,632 in 2000 to 6,500,180 in 2008. The FBI reports that the number of violent crimes was 27,281 and the number of property crimes was 271,811 in 2000. The corresponding figures in 2008 are 29,059 and 278,920.
In other words, the violent crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants dropped from 531 to 447 and the property crime rate dropped from 5,297 to 4,291.
So let’s put it together. The undocumented immigrant population appears to have decreased. The number of events triggering Border Patrol action decreased. And crime in one of the more sensitive border states decreased. Our Border Patrol, state and local police forces appear to be doing a great job.
One can also go through fear-monger claims about Social Security impact, welfare, etc. and quickly defuse them in the same way.
So what’s the problem? Fear. Fear driven by people and organizations for political or social gain is costing us dearly. It’s a distraction from our real economic and social problems. And even worse, the attempt to get local law enforcement to take on the alleged “inability of the federal government to manage the undocumented immigrant problem” has sinister impact.
Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady spoke at the Aug. 3, 2010, Lincoln Downtown Rotary Club meeting. He pointed out that his budget and his officers already have enough to do to enforce the laws of the state and city. Chief Casady indicated that the Police Department should be focusing on serving the people of Lincoln. This new push to take on a federal role stretches already tight police resources.
Even worse, putting local police in a position of taking extraordinary action to enforce immigration laws discourages crime reporting by undocumented immigrants and new immigrants in general. That makes it harder to track and establish the patterns of criminals.
People who happen to be undocumented immigrants or new immigrants may be in a position to provide intelligence information that could help the police apprehend criminals of all kinds.
Casady also stated that it was his opinion that undocumented immigrants in his jurisdiction are less likely to commit crimes (other than their illegal residency) because they want to avoid deportation.
Reacting in fear without reasoned understanding can hurt you, me and our families. Fear fear.