Margie Lied: Debunking That 'Migrant Crime Wave' Canard

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

President Joe Biden chose to scrap a bit with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene at the State of the Union — a choice that should remind us of the old saw, "Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it."

Greene has two modes: heckling and lying. This time, she was doing both by bellowing that Biden should "Say her name," a reference to Laken Riley, the nursing student who was murdered by an undocumented immigrant. Biden said the name (though he mangled it) and added the reasonable observation that thousands of people are murdered every year by the native born. A few progressive speech police then attacked Biden (!) for using the politically incorrect terminology for the murderer, causing Biden to correct himself, and here we are — all covered in mud while the pig is grinning.

Biden's initial instinct was good, even if the execution and follow-through left something to be desired. But that doesn't mean Biden should shrink from the subject in future. On the contrary, the false immigration narrative is clearly damaging Biden's standing.

Cards on the table: I'm for increased immigration. Immigrants are vital to our economy. They will contribute an estimated $7 trillion to our GDP over the next 10 years. They also revitalize our civic culture, injecting new Americans who do not take our prosperity or our freedoms for granted (and that's not even counting all the new cuisines). They contribute more to the economy than they take from it. Yes, our immigration laws are outdated and in need of reform — as the Biden administration at length conceded.

But while revising our criteria for asylum and hiring new immigration judges, we must not lose sight of the fact that being a magnet for those who want a better life is an American strength, not a weakness.

Greene cited the case of Laken Riley because she was a young, white woman murdered by an illegal immigrant. A group of GOP senators led by Rand Paul is muscling in on the stunt by demanding documents relating to the case. This is key to the cynical effort to convince Americans that most immigrants are dangerous criminals.

Recall that in 2015, the right was similarly inflamed about Kate Steinle, a woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco. The man who accidentally shot Steinle was eventually acquitted, but never mind the details. She was young and beautiful and nativists from coast to coast exploited her tragic death. Trump invoked her at the 2016 Republican Convention as evidence of the vicious invasion America was facing from Mexican rapists and murderers.

Since then, Trump has only ratcheted up his incitement, now employing fascistic language about immigrants "poisoning the blood" of this country.

In 2022, there were 18,785 murders in the United States. Some of them happened in Greene's district. A Dalton, Georgia, man escorting his girlfriend to the home of her ex was arrested after stabbing the ex to death. Also in Dalton, a 19-year-old pled guilty to second-degree murder for supplying a 16-year-old girl with fentanyl. In Rome, Georgia, a man was convicted of slaying two sisters he believed had stolen his wallet. He shot them and dumped their bodies in a river. He later found the wallet behind his TV.

Is the Republican governor of Georgia to blame? Is Greene? Should she say their names?

Every study on the subject has shown that since 1960, immigrants are much less likely than native-born Americans to be arrested or convicted of crimes (excluding those associated with entry into the country). The right highlights a few cases of murder committed by immigrants, but as Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute shows, undocumented immigrants are 27.7 times less likely to commit homicide than natives, and legal immigrants are 57.1 times less likely.

A Stanford University study of incarceration rates going all the way back to the 19th century shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes of every description than are the native-born. "Far from the rapists and drug dealers that anti-immigrant politicians claim them to be, immigrants today are doing relatively well." Criminologists have consistently found that immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in big cities have less crime, not more crime, than other areas.

It's rich that Republicans are seeking to blame Biden for murders committed by undocumented immigrants when they just rejected a bill that would have hired thousands of new border patrol agents and asylum officers, and allocated $20 billion for new detention facilities, improved drug detection technology, and more immigration judges. It would also have dramatically overhauled the standards for asylum. But the GOP foot soldiers, after stoking anti-immigrant hysteria for years, refused to take yes for an answer precisely because the incitement is the policy.

Biden's fundamental decency was on display during the State of the Union when he extended his deep sympathy to Laken Riley's family for their loss. The same cannot be said for Greene and company, whose bad faith is exceeded only by their shamelessness.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her new book, Hard Right: The GOP's Drift Toward Extremism, is available now.

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