First figure out the problem, then figure out the solution: a useful proverb that is being ignored by conservatives following the San Bernardino shooting.
The possibility of violent criminals and terrorists entering the United States (both legally and not) that the shooting seemed to demonstrate, hiding themselves among immigrants hoping to find their place in the American Dream, has led conservative Americans to entertain another dream: that a simple solution to a problem as complex as domestic terrorism exists. Unfortunately, this has led to irrational plans being proposed with no understanding of the situation. The most worrying part? Some of the so-called answers were given by 2016 presidential hopefuls.
The San Bernardino shooting in December, where one of the shooters was a legal immigrant, has led to illogical reactionary proposals that clearly rely on xenophobic sentiment rather than reason.
For example, Republican candidate Donald Trump responded to the issue of domestic terrorism with rants about building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, supported by fellow Republican Ben Carson — ignoring the tens of billions of dollars, according to NBC, that construction would cost. Even worse, after San Bernardino, Trump called for the closing of mosques along with banning Muslims from entering the United States (possibly even including those abroad in the military). Finally, many Republican politicians, including Trump, Carson, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal, are for eliminating birthright citizenship to dissuade illegal immigration. The opinions of the Republican candidates are clear: in this nation of immigrants, the latest additions to the proverbial melting pot are terrorists who are unfit to live in the country.
However, in addition to being unreasonable as well as highly discriminatory, the root of the problem with these proposals is the ignorance they demonstrate, shown through suggestions that immigrants are more prone to commit domestic terrorist attacks and other violent crimes. In fact, the data is not on the conservatives’ side — they simply do not know what they are dealing with.
Multiple studies over the course of more than a century have demonstrated that both documented and undocumented immigrants, of all national origins, are “less likely than the native population [of the United States] to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Immigration Policy Center reports that, while the number of undocumented immigrants tripled between 1990 and 2013, FBI findings show that the violent crime rate dropped 48 percent, and the property crime rate dropped 41 percent. Immigration Policy Center also found that immigrant young men in the United States are incarcerated at a lower rate than native-born young men.
Similarly, as reported by American Community Survey in 2010, 1.6 percent of male immigrants to the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 39 are incarcerated, while 3.3 percent of the corresponding native-born population is behind bars. In surveys taken in 1980, 1990, and 2000, American Community Survey found that native-born Americans were incarcerated at a rate two to five times higher than immigrants.
According to a study by the Public Policy Institute of California (a state with a large undocumented population), in California 297 foreign-born adults out of every 100,000 are incarcerated, while 813 out of every 100,000 American-born adults are incarcerated. Immigrants comprise 35 percent of California’s adult population, but only 17 percent of its prison population.
To liberal-minded individuals, this may not be extremely surprising. After all, 2015 saw multiple domestic terrorist attacks by native-born Americans, such as those in Charleston, Moneta, Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. Clearly, domestic terrorists do not fit a stereotype, and it does not help for authorities to focus their counterterrorism efforts on one group of people, when no one group is entirely at fault. However, even with their obvious ignorance, prominent conservative Republicans still believe they are fit to make decisions for the United States about how to react to domestic terrorism.
For these Republican presidential candidates, immigrants are a useful scapegoat; which can gain the support of people as uninformed as the candidates. The Republican candidates cannot suggest any other way to counter domestic terrorism because they are so badly informed on the issue. To these candidates, identifying a group of people seen as “other” as the cause of the problem and keeping that group out of the country is an easily understood, but misguided, solution.
As the 2016 elections approach, the San Bernardino shooting shows that the leaders necessary to deal with the issue of domestic terrorism are those who understand the complexities of the current situation. For young liberal-minded Americans, the ignorance manifested by many Republican candidates should answer the question of which party’s candidate to vote for. In 2016, anyone who supports diversity and tolerance should keep this question in mind: do you want the country to be led by a person who, to draw some people in, calls for others to be kept out?