The Conservative Response to Trump

Adios Trump!

Donald Trump has continued to make headlines, not only through the ostentatious, borderline decadent “announcement” of his presidential candidacy (I put this in scare quotes because I do not believe Trump in any way intends on actually attempting to be the President of the United States but instead is putting on an absurd performance art piece), but also through his comments on immigration and in particular Mexican immigrants. Here are Donald’s comments in full;

When Mexico send its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume are good people! But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes sense. They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”

When criticized for his tone, Trump followed up with this conciliatory statement;

What can be simpler or more accurately stated? They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc… Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world.

While there are a number of really interesting statements here, literally all of false (which is impressive for someone who is new to politics), let’s focus on the two major themes at first; Violent crime and disease.

Crime

Trump’s statements have gathered momentum among conservatives and the Republican Party for a few reasons. The first is that it speaks to more populist, nationalist wing of the party; less partisan, loyal voters that usually back candidates like Palin or vote third party for candidates like Perot. Secondly, conservatives unfortunately have learned the lesson that making conservative points in a nuanced and polished fashion will still get you blackballed by the media and chattering classes, and so they often enjoy those who make no apologies about their bluntness. Thirdly, the backlash from the largely liberal media (though it should be noted that the rest of the GOP field has distanced itself from Trump’s blowhard nonsense) has sparked a spontaneous following among Republicans. Conservatives are used to making the point that some uncomfortable truths do in fact remain true even if they are hard for us to stomach. They understand the concept of being attacked for simply bringing up an inconvenient reality.

Problem? None of Trump’s statements correspond to reality, though they are in fact inconvenient for the GOP’s chances this election.

For starters immigrants, in particular Latin American male immigrants, commit far less crime than their American counterparts. This has been, in fact, reinforced by several studies of incarceration rates and violent crime rates. Bianca Bersani of the Justice Quarterly, points out;

Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.

In fact, Justice Quarterly uses this graph to visually describe this remarkable trend.

This is found especially true of the kind of crime that Trump apparently (or rather should I say, allegedly) fears; drug crime and rape. Northwestern University found that this trend is also specific to drug crime and violent crimes such as rape. The study found, “There’s essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime. There’s a long perception that immigration increases crime, and when you look at neighborhoods where lots of immigrants live, these are typically not the best neighborhoods. These are violent places. So there’s this anecdotal association [between immigrants and violent crime] that just doesn’t turn out to be true in the data.”

The trend continues on a local level. In states that have a high illegal immigrant population, such as California, we find lower crime and lower incarceration rates among immigrants when compared to natives. The Public Policy Institute of California noted;

Immigrants are underrepresented in California prisons compared to their representation in the overall population. In fact, U.S.-born adult men are incarcerated at a rate over two-and-a-half times greater than that of foreign-born men.

Lastly, this is also true of the national-ethnic populations Trump singles out; Latin American males, in particular Mexicans. The Police Foundation, no font of liberal thought, pointed out;

Data from the census and a wide range of other empirical studies show that for every ethnic group without exception, 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.

When we look at the data, we find that immigrants simply commit less crime. This is true if we isolate it to immigrant men, Latin American immigrants, Mexican immigrants, illegal immigrants and in particular when violent crime is isolated. Unfortunately crime has been associated with immigration since the beginning of America and this myth has been cemented by popular media. Films like Gangs of New York, The Godfather and old James Cagney films, reinforced the immigrant criminal image. Even before America legally existed, Anglo-Protestant colonials were opposed to settling Irish Catholic indentured servants and Scots-Irish Presbyterians among them due to a (false) reputation for increased violence.

Disease

Trump also accused immigrants of bringing more disease in to the United States. Problem? It’s a complete myth. I dealt with this when I wrote on the child refugees fleeing from Mexico and Central America last summer.

MYTH: These children are bringing disease into the United States.

Many have said we face a new public health disaster and the really compassionate thing for American children would be to deport these UACs as soon as possible.

FACT: Hardly.

Doctors and other medical experts scoff at the notion we face any public health threat from UACs. Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center noted, “There is a long, sad and shameful tradition in the United States in using fear of disease, contagion and contamination to stigmatize immigrants and foreigners.”

According to the Texas Pediatric Society, while many of these UACs do have diseases, they are nothing more than common childhood illnesses or are very easily treatable. It is highly unlikely that these children are carrying any serious superbug such as Ebola since it would have incapacitated them from making the arduous journey. The current screening that is taking place is weeding out any children who are suffering from TB, swine flu or scabies (which despite its name, is merely a topical rash that has little to do with rabies). For tuberculosis, the scattered children that do have it are being quarantined and treated. Only a few children have contracted H1N1 (swine flu) and even fewer have contracted the scabies rash. These are a handful in 60,000.

The irony of ironies is that these children are less likely to be carriers of serious disease than American children. Statistically the average child in Central America is just slightly more likely to be up on their vaccination schedule than the average child in the United States.

The peddling of falsehoods about these children serves as a helpful reminder how absurd these tropes in fact are. While it could be intuitive that people from poor, often undeveloped rural areas are more likely to carry disease, we can clearly see that if those who would be most susceptible to such disease – children – are not simply pathogen carriers, then it is even less likely that adults will be carrying over their foreign germs to infect Americans.

Miscellaneous Absurdities

The rest of Trump’s screeds are a medley of commonly repeated nonsense. Trump claims to have spoken to anonymous border guards. However if Trump actually spent any time reading about the border, he’d realized that it has some of the lowest crime rates in the US, continues to enjoy declining crime rates, and that the US-Mexico border is one of the most well funded, well protected, highly militarized borders in the world. In fact, serving as a border patrol guard is far safer than any law enforcement job in America.

In addition, Trump’s ominous warning of people from “the Middle East” is more reminiscent of the boy who cried wolf than Paul Revere. There is simply no terrorist threat from our southern border. To believe otherwise is to assume that potential Islamist terrorists won’t get legal travel visas from, say, Cairo to New York, but will pay tens of thousands in smuggling fees to illegally sneak into one of the most well defended borders in the developed world.

Lastly, Trump’s consistent assumption is that we are receiving low skill immigrants from Latin America and low skill immigrants are bad. He reinforces this by telling his listeners that, “They are not sending you.” You’re right, Trump. Immigrants from Latin America represent a different skill level than Americans. That’s the point. Ironically Trump doesn’t recognize that this undermines a common restrictionist point about immigrants “stealing” American jobs. If immigrants are coming with lesser skills, then they are not displacing Americans from their jobs but rather taking jobs Americans, as a rule, do not work. In reality most Americans’ skill set are in the meaty median of the curve, which means most immigrants represent have very high or very low skills.

While the US at least attempts to encourage high skill immigration through a (much regulated) H1-B Visa program, our immigration policy is designed to discourage low skill immigration, as it operates under the assumption that low skill is low value. It is quite the opposite. Ask Georgia farmers, if the millions lost by less access to low skill immigrants was of “lesser value.” The US needs more low skill immigration as well as high skill immigration. As Americans increase, over the decades, their education and skill level, not only do traditionally leave low skill jobs (low level service, manufacturing, agriculture, manual labor, construction) for higher skill, higher wage jobs, but their consumption trends change, usually buying higher price goods, such as houses, locally grown food and American manufactured goods. This has the double effect of these industries having less workers but needing more of them to meet the increased historic demand. This is where “low skill” immigrants come in.

Trump may be rich, as he will often tell you, but he knows little about immigration economics and even less about immigration and the wider trends of crime, public health and security. Furthermore the policy he promotes is not the conservative policy option. He wants a larger, more expensive, more expansive government to enforce more laws and more regulations in order to restrict Americans’ market choices. This policy option is not only harmful to everyone involved; both Americans and immigrants, but also is antithetical to the original, limited government policy crafted by our Founders. While he may make headlines, Trump is clueless on immigration and far from conservative.

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Joseph Laughon is a lifelong Republican and a proud Mexican-American. He has worked as campaign consultant to Republican campaigns and was both the Vice Chairman of the College Republicans at Concordia University and the President of Nuestra Voz. Today he works in the transportation industry. He lives and writes in Long Beach, California.

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