In a small room on June 27 at the National Press Club building in Washington, D.C., stood parents who were forced to bury a child. In each case, the perpetrator was an undocumented immigrant. These parents were gathered to launch a new organization, Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC).
During his campaign, now-President Trump highlighted their stories to imply that all immigrants are a threat to public safety, arguing for more restrictive immigration laws and increased deportations. Rather than finding effective solutions to reduce violent crime, the message of AVIAC fits into a saddening trend of dehumanizing and criminalizing all immigrants.
First, we dehumanize with our words; no human should be called “illegal” or “alien.”
Secondly, we dehumanize with our ignorance. Some tout that undocumented immigrants have “cheated the line” and should just come legally. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of current immigration policy. The backlog for family and employment based immigrant visas extends years, sometimes decades. And, for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, there is no path to legal status. Sixty percent of them have been here for at least 10 years, with children, family ties, and strong roots in their communities.
The former would cut federal funding for “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which limit information sharing with immigration officials out of a desire to maintain positive relationships between local law enforcement and all community members. If residents do not trust the police, they are less likely to report crimes. The latter bill would increase maximum sentences for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, despite repeated proof that increasing punishments does not significantly deter crime.
Contrary to the implicit message of these bills, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. Even the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said as much. Additionally, crime rates in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border are low and even decreasing.
Furthermore, undocumented immigrants vitally contribute to the American economy by paying taxes ($11.74 billion per year), contributing to Social Security, and working hard in jobs integral to the U.S. economy (between 48-70 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented). According to one study, if all undocumented immigrants were removed from the U.S., our economy would lose $551.6 billion.
In no way do I want to shrug off the grief of the AVIAC parents. I’m the same age as some of their late children. My parents would be heartbroken to lose me. But these bills, this rhetoric, are not the solution. We need policies that effectively prevent violent crime, not legislation that demonizes all immigrants.
“Beloved,” John tells us, “Let us love one another….We love because God first loved us….Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters.” (1 John 4:7-21)
And so, beloved, in the spirit of loving, I urge you to contact your senators today and ask them not to pass H.R. 3003 and H.R. 3004.