in the news
In an op-ed titled, "Illegal Immigration and Crime" appearing in Sunday's Oregonian yesterday, community volunteer and former attorney, Susheela Jayapal took on the false claims of Richard LaMountain. Last week, in our piece titled, Myths of Illegal Immigration and Crime, we reported on LaMountain's op-ed pointing out his false claims and anti-immigrant agenda.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS AND CRIME
In his op-ed last Sunday ("Enable state's officers to aid federal enforcement efforts"), Richard LaMountain urged support for a proposed ballot measure beguilingly titled the Respect for Law Act. Among other things, this measure would repeal current Oregon law that prohibits using state law enforcement resources for activities focused solely on enforcing federal immigration law.
To make his case, LaMountain cites an array of statistics that purport to show that we're facing a tidal wave of crime committed by illegal immigrants. Therefore, he argues, local police should make the enforcement of immigration law part of their job. Police departments and organizations (including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, comprising the police chiefs of the 64 largest cities in the country) have strongly opposed measures such as this one, and for good reason.
First, they are unnecessary: Even assuming LaMountain's statistics are correct, local law enforcement agencies already have the authority and the tools to fight crime. Second, requiring local police to enforce immigration law would seriously erode public safety, not improve it. It would divert resources away from traditional police responsibilities, and it would destroy the relationships that urban police departments have built with their immigrant communities, deterring those communities from reporting crime or cooperating with police.
As for those statistics: They're either unsubstantiated or so taken out of context as to have been wrenched from any mooring in the truth.
Take, for example, the claim that illegal immigrants driving drunk kill 13 Americans a day. This claim is apparently based on another statistic frequently cited by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and other anti-immigrant zealots -- that 28 percent of all prison and jail inmates in the country are illegal immigrants. This percentage is applied to a federal count of the number of alcohol-related accidents reported in 2004, yielding 13 such accidents a day.
The problem is, that 28 percent number is just plain wrong. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that fewer than 7 percent of inmates in federal, state and local prisons and jails were immigrants of any kind, legal or illegal. So that estimate of the number of people killed by drunken illegal immigrants? Also wrong.
One more example: LaMountain cites The Oregonian as reporting last summer that 1,000 of Oregon's prisoners were foreigners. That's true. He neglects to mention, however, that the article in question actually contradicts his position: The headline is "Illegal immigrants aren't filling local jails" (Aug. 19, 2007), and the general thrust of the piece is that crime rates for illegal immigrants "are on a par with the general population."
Respect for the law is founded on respect for the truth. LaMountain's argument in support of the Respect for Law Act is based not on truth, but on rank fear-mongering -- and as such, it deserves no respect.
Susheela Jayapal is a community volunteer and a self-described recovering lawyer. She lives in Northeast Portland.
Monday, June 2, 2008
in the news