Ignoring Facts: Crime and Immigration are Decreasing in Arizona

The New York Times has a report (h/t J Cobas) that accents important points about immigration reality, given that craziness seems to be the norm in much debate over immigration–recently and strongly in Arizona. Given all the debates, a reader of the mainstream media would assume crime rates are up in Arizona because of undocumented immigrants (aka human beings trying to survive). The death that José pointed up here of Robert Krentz, the mild-mannered and kind Arizona rancher opposed to immigration, yet willing to help the undocumented, is used by the racist right to stir hostility to undocumented Americans from Mexico. The Times points to an important point that only occasionally gets noticed:

But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. … F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe.

Recognition of that fact about crime—it is declining and lower in Arizona than in US generally—should put a damper on racist hysteria that lies behind much anti-immigrant legislation, in Arizona and beyond.

The decline in undocumented immigrants, one might think, would be factored into efforts at legislation. Why has it been largely ignored in these debates?

The Times, as is its custom too often, tries to provide “balance” to the racist right by accenting the social psychology on “both sides” (it has only two sides?) of the immigration situation:

Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said that what social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

Well, actually, there seems to be more ignoring of the information on the anti-immigrant side. (The social science critics of the anti-immigration folks generally have more data supporting their critique, “their side,” I can attest as a researcher in this area.) I also wonder if that anti-immigration perspective getting so much attention could have anything to do with the fact that whites, disproportionately conservative whites, control much of the mainstream print, radio, television media across the country? Immigrants and supporters, as I peruse the mainstream media, get much less say about these matters than anti-immigration folks—including the fringe on the far right. This article itself is an example, given how rare it is in the mainstream media. Indeed, few research experts on undocumented immigration seem to get called for way too many of these mainstream media stories.

There is also the fact that the Times article ignores the structural realities central to these immigration issues. These include the large number of (heavily white) employers in the U.S. Southwest and elsewhere who have actively recruited Mexican workers, now for a modest 100 years. Then there is the reason for most drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border: U.S. citizens consume large amounts of drugs from Mexico. One would think that supply-and-demand thinking that goes with conservative “market” perspectives would pay most attention to “demanders” of Mexican workers and Mexican-source drugs. Yet, the mostly white demanders get remarkably little attention.


  1. Today’s Arizona Republic [http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/06/22/20100622john-birch-society-illegal-immigration.html#ixzz0rbV3mkbe] reports that John McManus, president of the John Birch Society, will deliver a speech in the Phoenix area targeted at ‘illegal immigrants.’ The John Birch Society is one of the right-wing groups who believe that illegal immigration is part of an immense conspiracy to destroy the United States. I haven’t seen any evidence of that conspiracy, but it seems to me that there is enough evidence already that right wing xenophobes, principally white, are creating an explosive racial and political climate that could cause serious and prolonged divisions in Arizona for years to come.

  2. No1KState

    The NYTimes has a piece – http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/the-anosognosics-dilemma-1/ (h/t prometheus6.org – my other blog away from blog) – that may, and I emphasize may, help explain this phenomon or at least a piece of it. It’s about the Dunning-Kruger effect which states that very many people who are incompetent are too incompetent to know they’re incompetent. To put it easily, they’re too stupid to know they’re stupid. And this is even in the face of discrediting information. Then of course there is the confirmation bias that effect many people that Joe mentions. I think these factors mixed in with racism and xenophobia result in SB 1070 and the ethnic studies ban.

    Now, what follows is off topic, but I had an epiphany of sorts the other day and would like some feedback. I think we can all agree that the phrase “racial resentment” is a term invented by racists to explain their racism as not being racism per se but resentment, right? And to date, I’ve only heard this phrase used by whites who said or did something racist, or are looking to rationalize the racist statement or action of a friend. So, for example, someone might say the tea people aren’t racist, they’re just racially resentful, right?

    From what I’ve come to understand, what leads to white racial resentment is the notion that racial minorities have it very easy and still complain, that due to affirmative action unqualified minorities are given opportunities they don’t deserve. That the push for equality forces the government to do things that are unfair to whites just to make up for slavery. And various other notions, you get my point.

    So now, we have a national situation, even prior to Texas’s changes, where standard high school social studies, US history, and English literature classes all perpetuate white supremacy. And it’s this standard public high school education that leads to people arguing that affirmative action is unfair, etc and so on as I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    So my epiphany? Standard high school soft subject courses fuel white racial resentment, one of the legal prohibitions against ehtnic studies in general. And of course, I’m sure most of us can agree that standard high school education is pretty much white American ethnic studies, another prohibition.

    So couldn’t a smart lawyer, not one who’s too incompetent to know they’re incompetent, but a really bright lawyer of the sort who argued Brown v Board . . . couldn’t a smart lawyer argue that the standard, nonethnic studies promote racial resentment and race solidarity on the part of white students and as such, would be illegal under Arizona standards?

    I would guess that the authors of the law intend “racial resentment” to refer to the idea that the government, or more specifically white Americans, owe minorities for things that happened in the past, whether we’re talking slavery or the Mexican War. Or even, whether we’re talking about the nation owing Native American Nations land and money from centuries of broken treaties. But I’ve never heard or read that term used to describe racial minorities, only white Americans. Maybe in conservative media it’s used that way? But it’s not used the way colloquially.

    Moreover, antiracism activist doesn’t promote resentment of white Americans, we focus on institutional and cultural structures. We don’t argue that white Americans receive, for example, mortgage rates better than they’ve earned; we argue racial minorities are given mortgage rates worse than what we’ve earned. That’s a different argument.

    Anyway, any thoughts on my “epiphany?”

  3. Joe

    No1K, that is a lot to think about. I think you are right that ‘racial resentment’ is another white-coined deflection term (like reverse racism, model minority, etc) designed to take the focus off white oppression. From the beginning the white racial frame has centered on white conceptions of white virtue. The key is that whites get very angry when their virtue is challenged, have since 1600s. That is what “I am not a racist” and ” I don’t see race,” are all about. This is not new ‘colorblind racism,’ but very old white virtue emphasis. Even the slaveholders and segregationists always saw themselves as virtuous, and thus ‘resented’ anyone suggesting they were not. That excellent bit your raise about too stupid to see stupidity, might also be too racist to see racism?

  4. cordoba blue

    The white racial frame implies that whites have surreptitious and rational reasons for resenting other ethnic groups. The one I love is, and I am being sarcastic, the we built this country meme. The most vociferous racists are people who have nothing to be particularly proud of in terms of personal achievement, but at least they are white. Which somehow means that they have this tiny fragile spider web of superiority over other ethnic groups.It really boils down to an inhumane lack of respect for other peoples in this ecosystem.Hope this can change someday.

  5. cordoba blue

    Was just listening to a radio program of white people who live in the southwest. They stated that the immigrant farm workers have not been responsible for a large extent of the crime, but that somehow many people erroneously believe that less immigration will result in less crime. Many of these people have lived in the southwest their entire lives. They also said that statistics do not support this ill conceived anxiety.


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