Trump's VOICE and Why It's Counterproductive to Demonize Immigrants

If you'd like to see the country adopt a rule-of-law approach to immigration enforcement, there was plenty to like about President Trump's joint address to Congress on Tuesday night. His calls to "restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders", create a merit-based immigration system, and protect American workers by enforcing our laws were music to my ears.

But I'm not sold on his idea to establish VOICE (Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement), an office within the Department of Homeland Security that will supposedly help Americans who are victims of crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally. (And publish quarterly reports "studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.")

If VOICE actually provides real assistance to crime victims, that's great. And there's no question that the mainstream media downplays or ignores crimes committed by illegal immigrants. The "immigrants are less likely to commit crimes" mantra we hear so often is based upon politically motivated research that is treated seriously only because the government refuses to document how many of those in our federal prisons are foreign-born and/or in the country illegally.

We should compile and publish these kinds of detailed crime statistics — not as a pretext to demonize immigrants, but so we can detect and respond appropriately to trends. For example, if authorities can document that a significant number of visa overstays from a specific country committed felonies, U.S. consular officials in those countries should be put on alert that they need to tighten up visa screening.

But while I favor helping crime victims and publishing more detailed crime statistics, I'm concerned that, rather than doing those things, VOICE will instead be little more than a platform to advance the argument that immigrants are essentially bad people, prone to crime and who knows what else. There's a very clear and important difference between providing actionable data and promoting anecdotal crime porn stories that do little more than inflame anti-immigrant sentiment. (Though I have no problem with publishing any and all crimes committed by illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities because that serves a very specific purpose of illuminating the threat to public safety that this policy poses.)

The primary arguments against illegal immigration — that it undermines the rule of law, harms American workers and taxpayers, and jeopardizes our national security — are so compelling that it's counterproductive to try to convince Americans that illegal immigrants are also bad people. I have interacted with hundreds of migrants who have entered the country illegally or who have overstayed visas, and I would only categorize a small percentage of these people as genuinely bad hombres.

For the most part, they are people who recognize that our country is a hell of a lot better place to live than the countries they're coming from. (Give them credit for good taste, if nothing else.) Many of these migrants are inspired by people they know who have already come to the United States illegally (or overstayed visas) but managed to legalize their status. So rather than accept their sorry lot in life in their home countries, they come here (either sneaking in or posing as tourists in most cases) and hope for the best.

I'm not condoning illegal immigration, nor am I suggesting that because people decide to break our laws, we should let them stay. We need to act in our national interest, and it isn't realistic to invite anyone and everyone in the world who wants to live here to come in. But there's an element of the Right, perhaps best represented by Ann Coulter, that demonizes immigrants in a way that undermines, rather than bolsters, the case for an enforcement-first approach to immigration.

Coulter was on the Tucker Carlson show last week and I came away from the interview thinking that while Trump and others on the right might appreciate her immigrants-are-rotten approach, she and others like her will turn off many more Americans than they'll persuade. Coulter, and others like her seem to be capable of just one thing—preaching to the choir. That's fine, but in order to convince Americans that a rule of law approach to immigration is best, we need influencers — people who are articulate, persuasive, and likable.

For starters, Coulter seems not to accept the fact that most immigrants, legal and illegal, are coming here to improve their lives and the prospects for their families. Describing the motivations of immigrants, Coulter told Carlson that voting for Democrats was their "main purpose for being here." I'm sure there was more than a little sarcasm there, but in her nine-minute interview, most of it focused on immigration, she never offered even a hint of acknowledgement that perhaps immigrants don't have sinister motivations for coming here. And when Carlson gave her an opportunity to acknowledge that some immigrants have made important contributions to the country — a fact that I think most Americans would agree on — she refused to budge off of her immigrants-stink soapbox.

At the 6:24 mark of the interview, Carlson says, "Clearly there are a lot of immigrants who are a massive net positive for America, and the statistics are pretty widely known..."

Coulter interrupted him, saying, "Not too many any more."

"But you can point to quite a few of them," Carlson responded.

"Most of them are pre-1970," Coulter said.

Coulter's implication here is that immigrants who came before 1970 (mostly Europeans) were fine, but the (mostly non-European) ones who have come more recently are generally parasites and criminals. Anyone who didn't quite catch her drift was left with no doubt what she meant when the conversation turned to immigrants and crime.

"They have very detailed records on prisoners in New York State, for example," Coulter said. "And there are thousands of Dominicans ... [but only] one German, one Dane."

It would be easy to dismiss Coulter as a provocateur who is more interested in selling books than advancing serious policy proposals on immigration. But President Trump is reportedly a fan of her work and, based on some of his rhetoric and policies, it seems like he too believes that it's necessary to convince Americans that illegal immigrants are bad people in order to build the case for enforcement.

A much more persuasive way to look at the problem of illegal immigration is to focus on us rather than them. Immigration policy can be a tool to improve the lives of Americans — especially the poorest, least skilled, and least educated among us. Let's focus on that rather than trying to create the false narrative that immigrants are dirty rotten scoundrels.