The idea that undocumented immigrants are causing a crime wave in the U.S.—while not supported by evidence—has been a mainstay of anti-immigrant activists for decades. For example, in instituting ordinances against hiring or renting to immigrants, Hazleton, Pennsylvania Mayor Lou Barletta claimed that immigrants were “terroriz[ing]” the city. But defending the ordinances in court, Barletta could not back this claim up. “The people in my city don’t need numbers,” the frustrated mayor declared when confronted with the city’s own statistics showing the opposite.
Similarly, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist have been touting phony numbers on immigrants and crime.
But if statistics don’t back up their claims, anti-immigrant activists can always latch on to anecdotes. A recent multiple-homocide in Newark, New Jersey has implicated illegal immigrants, and national activists quickly descended upon the city, claiming that the crime was linked to local police not questioning suspects’ immigration status.
Possible presidential candidate Newt Gingrich used a visit to the Ames, Iowa straw poll to call for a special session of Congress to pass a law ensuring that “Any city, county or state that refuses to participate in checking every felony arrest will immediately lose all their federal aid.” Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin echoed his attack on so-called “Sanctuary Cities.” Jesse Lee Peterson of Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny (BOND), who makes a career out of denouncing Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, claimed that the murders in Newark were indicative of a “growing phenomenon” of “ethnic cleansing of blacks from lower-income neighborhoods by Hispanic gangs and illegal aliens.”
And on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) spoke at a rally in Newark, calling on the victims’ families to sue the city over the police department’s policy on checking immigration status. He was joined by anti-immigrant activists from You Don’t Speak For Me, a front group for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control.
Tancredo’s goal is to circumvent immigration reform in the U.S. Congress by pushing anti-immigrant measures in state legislatures and city councils—whether in small towns like Hazleton, which lack evidence of problems with undocumented immigrants but have leaders willing to rouse sentiment against them, or in places like Newark, where a brutal crime can become fodder for outside activists like him.