In January, during his first week in office, Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants in the United States. His argument continues to be that many undocumented immigrants “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”
No matter how one feels about immigration (legal or otherwise), we should all be concerned about such assertions. Why? Because they are unsupported (and indeed, debunked) by available evidence. According to an article in the New York Times, immigrants are actually far less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens are.
Criminal defense attorneys know that misinformation – especially about crime – is dangerous to the criminal justice process. As just one example, consider the “CSI effect.” Americans who watch crime dramas are so convinced about the reliability of forensic science that when they are asked to serve on a jury, they implicitly trust forensic evidence – even tests that may not be scientifically valid.
An assertion that undocumented immigrants (or “illegal aliens”) are more likely to be dangerous criminals is not a fact or even an opinion. It is a false narrative that can unduly prejudice juries and the general public. If someone has been charged with a non-immigration-related crime, does their citizenship status have any bearing on their guilt or innocence? The answer is no. But if juries have been fed the narrative that immigrants are criminals, that bias could have a big impact on the jury’s decision.
For much of the past century, it was nearly impossible for African Americans to receive a fair criminal trial in the segregated South (and often, even here in New York City). Today, activists are still fighting to reverse the damaging, false association between dark skin and criminality.
When the president makes a claim, true or false, it is going to have far-reaching consequences. For this reason, it is crucial that we demand the truth from all leaders and correct falsehoods when they are uttered.