This past week presented a remarkable contrast in perception of immigrants in California. On the one hand there was Gov. Jerry Brown claiming there is no “massive wave of migrants pouring into California. On the other, there was President Donald J. Trump tweeting his fears Wednesday morning of a “Revolution” in the Golden State and claiming that “Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept.”
Breeding concept? It’s not clear exactly what President Trump meant by that, but it’s safe to say his reference to “breeding” is to suggest that undocumented immigrants are having children but in the most racist and dehumanizing way possible. The term has two common uses — animal reproduction and aristocracy conferred by heredity (as in a person has good breeding) — and it’s highly unlikely the president was talking about a surge in European royalty in Tarzana. Historically, pairing humans with the term “breeding” is a reference to eugenics, slavery or Nazis. It’s a loaded term, and this is hardly Mr. Trump’s first offense in that arena.
But wait, let’s set aside the president’s fondness for using the terminology of white supremacists (again) for a moment and focus on the underlying facts in this dispute, which started out as a tussle over whether, and under what circumstances, Governor Brown would authorize his state’s National Guard to assist with border security. Is there a revolution going on in California? Are the people of the state “not happy” with its treatment of undocumented immigrants? Who is spouting alternative facts this particular week?
Sorry, Mr. President, but Governor Brown wins this round. The numbers don’t lie. U.S. Border Patrol statistics indicate that apprehensions of people entering the country illegally from Mexico are at their lowest level since 1971. There were 303,916 arrests in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in 2017. In 2000, it was 1.6 million which is more than five times as many as last year. If illegal immigration was a flood two decades ago, it’s more like a trickle today.
Another point Governor Brown made is that 85 percent of those arrests took place in states other than California and government numbers show — bing, bing, bing — he’s correct about that, too. Texas and New Mexico are the states that drive the numbers (about two-thirds of the total), not California, but that’s inconvenient for the president’s political narrative because both those states are governed by Republicans, Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Greg Abott in Texas.
As for “crime infested,” the numbers are pretty revealing about that, too. Like most of the country, crime (including violent crime) is down. The crime rate per 100,000 population has been cut in half since the early 1980s, according to the California Department of Justice. As we’ve mentioned in this space many times before, studies show immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are less likely to commit crimes in the United States than people who were born here. It just doesn’t always seem that way because of the amount of media attention given to crimes committed by people who are undocumented.
Chalk the president’s alternative facts to his continuing need to spin the narrative that the United States is threatened by immigrants and immigration. It’s a cynical campaign that plays on the fears of many Americans about people who do not look like them or speak their language. Lost your job? Immigrants? Wages stagnant? Immigrants. Opioid overdoses on the rise? Blame immigrants. Mr. Trump is counting on people to have an irrational fear of the “other” — not unlike how he claimed earlier this month that women traveling in recent caravan of Latin American asylum seekers were being raped at “record levels” when nothing of the sort had happened.
We in Baltimore know a thing or two about dehumanizing a dark-skinned population with language like “animals” or “zoo” or “city that breeds.” It’s far easier to ignore human suffering — or even factual evidence — when you use words normally reserved for creatures much lower on the evolutionary scale. Ultimately, whether Governor Brown sends troops to the border for this non-crisis immigrant crisis is not nearly as important as the indefensible bigotry the dispute reveals.
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