Who’s worse on immigration: Trump or Obama?

Donald Trump has become infamous for his rhetoric about immigrants:

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. [Applause] Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends 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 with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

I think my favorite comment on this quote is from Jon Stewart:

That’s our good friend Donald Trump reminding America that as many as a handful of people coming across our southern border are not rapists — he assumes. He’s sure about the rapist part, but feels that — I guess by pure law of averages — there are probably some non-rapists caught up in that tide.

Trump’s claims about immigrants and crime have been thoroughly debunked. If anything, unauthorized immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens, perhaps because they have extra incentives not to attract the attention of the authorities.

However, I think that the mainstream American position on immigration is at best only slightly less-bad than Trump’s stance. Consider: under Obama, record numbers of immigrants have been deported. The justifications for this policy don’t add up:

Obama says he has tried to make deportation policy “smarter” by targeting “criminals” and “gang bangers” — and not going after families. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security has pushed to deport more immigrants than ever. Immigration officials wrote a “goal” of 400,000 deportations per year on a whiteboard at their headquarters, according to the New York Times.

The federal government couldn’t do both. So, in the end, Obama’s plans to selectively target deportations just ended up augmenting the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation dragnet — rather than replacing it…

Since 2009, a little over half of deportees have been “convicted criminals.” But this term is broader than most people think.

Simply being an unauthorized immigrant in the United States isn’t a crime, but entering illegally is. So anyone who’s prosecuted for “illegal entry,” leaves, and then returns is considered a “convicted criminal” and targeted for deportation.

Unauthorized immigrants can also be deported as “criminals” for driving without licenses (which, in most states, they can’t get). And the term “convicted criminal” includes a variety of smaller crimes: Experts estimate that the majority of American citizens would be considered “convicted criminals” under the administration’s broad definition…

Particularly horrifying has been Obama’s response to refugees (including tens of thousands of children) fleeing violence in Central America. At one point, Obama actually asked Congress to make these people easier to deport. And his justification for this was ridiculously hypocritical:

The journey is unbelievably dangerous for these kids. The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home. I’ve sent a clear message to parents in these countries not to put their kids through this. I recently sent Vice President Biden to meet with Central American leaders and find ways to address the root causes of this crisis. Secretary Kerry will also be meeting with those leaders again tomorrow. With our international partners, we’re taking new steps to go after the dangerous smugglers who are putting thousands of children’s lives at risk.

Today, I sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they work with me to address the urgent humanitarian challenge on the border, and support the immigration and Border Patrol agents who already apprehend and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year. And understand, by the way, for the most part, this is not a situation where these children are slipping through. They’re being apprehended. But the problem is, is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.

Obviously, the journey to the US is dangerous only because US immigration policy makes it so. If refugees knew they could get on an airplane to the US to escape violence in their home countries without risk of immediately being deported, there’d be no reason for them to use riskier methods. For Obama to pretend he’s doing these children a favor is disgusting.

And make no mistake, Obama’s callous policy towards refugees puts lives in danger (again from the previous link):

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Washington, DC, conducted a major study, “Children on the Run”, that examined this crisis…

UNHCR interviewed children who had fled and found that they provided information indicating they “may well be in need of international protection.” Forty-eight percent of the displaced children who were interviewed “shared experiences of how they had been personally affected by the augmented violence in the region by organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs or by State actors.”…

Out of 104 children from El Salvador, “Sixty-six percent of the children cited violence by organized armed criminal actors as a primary motivator for leaving, and 21% percent discussed abuse in the home.”

Maritza, a fifteen year-old from El Salvador, told UNHCR, “I am here because the gang threatened me. One of them ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm. In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there. They told him that on April 3, and I left on April 7. They said if I was still there on April 8, they would grab me, and I didn’t know what would happen. . . . My mother’s plan was always for the four of us – her, my two sisters and me – to be together. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to come. I decided for sure only when the gang threatened me.”…

Only 1.82% of asylum applicants—181 people from El Salvador—were granted asylum in 2013, according to the US Justice Department.

In one respect, the mainstream liberal position on immigration is even more morally repugnant than Trump’s. The Donald’s worldview–though empirically wrong–at least provides a clear justification for keeping Mexican immigrants out of America. But once you accept that few unauthorized immigrants are violent criminals, what’s the point of keeping them out? Other than pointless malice directed at people who happen to have been born in the wrong place, I mean.

The question in the title in this post is partly trolling. If Trump were actually elected president, I don’t doubt his immigration policies would be even worse than Obama’s. But in terms of each man’s actions so far, all Trump has done is say bigoted things. Obama’s the one who has actually deported child refugees back to violence-wracked home countries. All while having the chutzpah to claim he’s doing them a favor.


4 thoughts on “Who’s worse on immigration: Trump or Obama?

  1. Yes, the thing about Trump is that he is forthright and honest about his irrational hatred of immigrants. He doesn’t try to hide it in sweet language and “mistakes were made.”

    Abraham Lincoln said it best:

    “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”


  2. Immigrant crime actually does look like a problem if you look into the research. It is obscured by methodological issues and politicization. For example, imagine an immigrant population with crime rates intermediate between US whites and blacks. If you import from this general population, you will mathematically end up with a lower crime rate. But there will be a greater absolute amount of crime than necessary, and the crime rate will still be higher than US white populations, or even populations of immigrants from countries with lower crime and corruption. This seems undesirable.

    In the case of Hispanics immigrants specifically, second and third generation immigrants commit higher rates of crime than the first generation. Measuring immigrant crime rates fails to count unreported crime in immigrant communities, plus the effect of deportations. Government statistics often combine white and Hispanic offending rates, which muddies the waters. There is also debate on whether to control for age. If you do, immigrant crime rates look lower, but a youthful immigrant population with high fertility will maintain a large population of young people with higher crime rates.

    These points are covered in more detail in that link, and in the Unz debates (start here and then Google). Keep them in mind when interpreting media discussion about immigration.


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