Statesman Journal (Op-Ed)
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
May 18, 2017
SAN DIEGO — When they criticize laws against hate crimes, conservatives claim we shouldn’t create special classes of victims.
Well, forget all that. It turns out that they feel differently when they can get political mileage from exploiting the public’s fear of illegal immigrants. Then they’re all in.
Recently, the Department of Homeland Security created an office called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) to supposedly serve Americans who are harmed when the undocumented commit crimes.
People like Benjamin and Ingrid Lake who, along with their 6-year-old son, Lennox, were coming home from Disneyland on May 6 when a drunk driver plowed into their car in San Ysidro, California, south of San Diego and near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The driver, 38-year-old Constantino Banda-Acosta, is an illegal immigrant who fled the scene but was soon arrested.
The parents suffered minor injuries, but Lennox remains hospitalized. He is being treated for a major head injury, although he is expected to make a full recovery.
A criminal like Banda-Acosta floats under the radar because, under normal circumstances, neither local nor federal officials are anxious to take responsibility for him.
That is, until there is a crash, an injured child and a media spectacle. Then, every jurisdiction wants him.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has lodged a detainer against Banda-Acosta, seeking to “pursue additional immigration enforcement action and/or criminal prosecution.” But ICE will have to cool it and wait its turn.
The San Diego district attorney’s office wants first crack at Banda-Acosta. He was charged in state court with hit-and-run causing permanent injury, drunk driving resulting in great bodily harm and driving without a license.
Amid this law enforcement feeding frenzy, it’s hard to see what more the administration’s new VOICE office could do for the Lake family.
But maybe that’s not the objective after all.
Maybe VOICE is nothing more than a propaganda tool through which the administration intends to pander to those who believe that the undocumented are predisposed to criminal activity.
That fits. Illegal immigrants are this administration’s answer to Willie Horton. The 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush — under the direction of GOP campaign strategist Lee Atwater — made that furloughed convict a household name through an infamous television ad that attempted to portray then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis as soft on crime. The ad was racist, and a textbook example of dirty pool.
Trump knows how to use racism to play dirty. He has labeled Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists and suggested that Mexico is glad to get rid of them. During the campaign, he often posed with folks who lost family members to crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Still, the administration is way out of bounds on this one.
Implying that one group of people (immigrants) is more likely to commit crimes than another (the native-born) is immoral. And because the vast majority of illegal immigrants in the United States are Latino, it feeds the stereotype that foreigners of a certain ethnicity are natural-born criminals.
A hundred years ago, the same thing was said about Italian immigrants. Fear drove support for the Immigration Act of 1924, which kept out immigrants from “Southern Europe.” Read: Italy.
But if illegal immigrants are so lethal, why do Americans invite these hooligans into their homes to do chores? Why do they give gardeners the pass-codes to their gated communities and hand over their children to nannies? Perhaps most of these people aren’t so dangerous after all.
The data confirms it. Studies show that illegal immigrants commit crimes at lower levels than the native-born. The FBI reports that cities with high numbers of illegal immigrants are among the safest in the country. After all, if you’re afraid of being deported, why draw attention?
Politicizing crime is not a good idea. Instead of engaging in these stunts, the administration should fix our broken immigration enforcement system.
For conservatives, the simple solution is more deportations. But what makes these naive right-wingers think that people who get deported actually stay deported?
According to immigration officials, Banda-Acosta has already been deported 15 times since 2002. The last time he was removed, he was back sleeping in his own bed just 10 days later.
Bad apples like this don’t deserve a free bus ticket to visit family members across the border, so they can come right back when the visit is over. They deserve prison time where their crime was committed — the United States.
That’s common sense. Which explains why you’re not hearing it from an administration that puts a higher premium on political theater.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. writes for the Washington Post Writers Group, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Send email to email@example.com.
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