Anti-immigrant movement uses tragedy to criminalize immigrant communities

Imagine2050 Staff • Jul 10, 2015

The organized anti-immigrant movement is once again attempting to use a tragedy as a vehicle to advance nativist policy goals.

Following the tragic fatal shooting of a San Francisco woman last week, the anti-immigrant movement has rallied around opposing policies that local law enforcement agencies have implemented to ensure resources are devoted to enforcing criminal laws within their jurisdictions, rather than immigration laws, which are the responsibility of federal agencies.

Such disingenuous actions are nothing new for a movement whose flagship organization previously hosted an event to depict the perpetrator of a heinous crime “as the poster child of both the DREAM Act and amnesty” rather than to memorialize and support victims.

Aided by recent remarks by right wing demagogues such as Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, media outlets have needlessly furthered a misleading narrative of rampant criminality among immigrant communities who, they claim, are immune from punishment by law enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the think tank of the anti-immigrant movement, established the intellectual groundwork for these specious claims.

In the face of gains for immigrant rights in recent years, the anti-immigrant movement is exploiting this tragedy to double down on its arguments that immigrants are criminals who must be deported or forced to self-deport.

While anti-immigrant leaders are advocating for the elimination of so-called ‘sanctuary city’ policies, they are also using the tragedy to espouse their true anti-immigrant agenda by making the nativist case for “attrition through enforcement” aka “self-deportation” policies (the same policy that proved disastrous to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign). Clearly, the anti-immigrant movement’s efforts to oppose sanctuary policies are only one part of their broader efforts to criminalize immigrant communities with an end goal of mass deportation and attrition through enforcement.

And the research bears this out.

Nearly 75% of the organizations’ communications output from that period were formed in-whole or significantly around the core messages of “Amnesty/Rule of Law” and “Enforcement/Security.”

An internal study by the Center for New Community of communications from leading anti-immigrant organizations between February 19 and April 18, 2014 confirmed this emphasis on policies designed to remove undocumented immigrants from the country, one way or another. Nearly 75% of the organizations’ communications output from that period were formed in-whole or significantly around the core messages of “Amnesty/Rule of Law” and “Enforcement/Security.”

Much of the anti-immigrant movement’s communications output at this time was informed by a headline-grabbing report issued by CIS in March 2014 titled, “Catch and Release: Interior Immigration Enforcement in 2013.” Despite the report’s thoroughly disingenuous methodology and conclusions, media outlets and right-wing groups lunged at the opportunity to uphold CIS’s bombastic claim that immigration authorities “released 68,000 aliens with criminal convictions.” The report led to congressional inquiries, after which CIS released another report in May to further assert that immigration officials have released tens of thousands of convicted criminals.

As expected, CIS’s May report was predicated on a misleading and simplistic analysis of enforcement data.

But misleading conclusions didn’t stop anti-immigrant lawmakers from lauding the report’s findings. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) – also a member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s advisory board – celebrated the report’s publication in an op-ed claiming its release “could well come to be known as the day immigration reform died.”

CIS’s publications likely influenced members of the House Judiciary Committee to pass Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) overzealous immigration enforcement bill, The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act. Thankfully, the bill died at the end of the 113th Congress. However, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) recently introduced a revamped version of the bill, the “Michael Davis, Jr., and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act.” Naturally, Sessions continues to receive vociferous support from the anti-immigrant movement in the process. Just this week, CIS published a glowing analysis of the Davis-Oliver Act on its website.

The strategy is clear: never let a good tragedy go to waste.

Not surprisingly, NumbersUSA is jumping on the bandwagon. Today, NumbersUSA sent out an action alert urging their supporters to ask Congress to pass the Davis-Oliver Act and using last week’s tragic murder as the justification.

We’ve seen this before and it only becomes clearer with time. For the nativist supporters of draconian “attrition though enforcement” policies, the strategy is clear: never let a good tragedy go to waste.

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