During his first speech to Congress Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump continued his tough-on-immigration agenda by announcing the creation of a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement — an office dedicated to serving victims of violent crimes at the hands of undocumented immigrants.
"We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests," Trump said to Congress.
Audible boos and loud groans followed his announcement.
Trump cherry-picked a few genuinely tragic family stories, like 17-year-old athlete Jamiel Shaw, Jr., who was killed by an undocumented person who happened to belong to a gang in 2008.
"Jamiel Shaw, Jr. was an incredible young man, with unlimited potential who was getting ready to go to college where he would have excelled as a great quarterback," Trump said. "But he never got the chance."
While victims of violent crimes deserve support, Trump's use of these limited examples to paint violent crime committed by undocumented immigrants as statistically significant risks stoking xenophobia. The epidemic he was trying to highlight, and the idea that immigrants steal Americans' dreams, just isn't the reality.
Aside from being a terrible acronym, VOICE is based on a false premise. Immigrants in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, commit fewer violent crimes than the general population. Studies show that not only do immigrants commit fewer crimes than those born in the United States, but also they go to jail less, at a rate of about one-fifth of native-born Americans.
Congress has devoted an increasing amount of federal funding to aggressively arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants since the early 2000s. But that dramatic increase in money hasn't led to an increase in apprehending violent criminals. Instead, people who broke federal immigration laws are being rounded up. In 2001, for example, the percentage of noncitizens arrested for a violent crime was 0.5%. In 2010, it was 0.4%. In contrast, the percentage of immigrants arrested for immigration crimes rose from 47.3% in 2001 to 69.4% in 2010.
Though Trump touts himself as a bottom-line guy, he loses his own argument by demonizing immigrants who bolster and support the American economy. According to Al Jazeera, an estimated 8 to 10% of undocumented immigrants are entrepreneurs, meaning that hundreds of thousands of U.S. businesses are owned and operated by undocumented immigrants.
Trump's determination to denigrate undocumented immigrants is also a direct hit to America's most venerated, mythologized career: the farmer. According to the Hill, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than half of farm workers are undocumented immigrants (labor unions say it's more like 70%).
Immigrants do not compete with American workers for jobs. A 2011 study found undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.2 billion in taxes to government coffers every year. Trump himself has used undocumented labor.
If Trump is really interested in giving the voiceless a voice, it's probably best to embrace, rather than demonize, some of the most marginalized among us: undocumented immigrants.