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Trump’s Immigration Budget Is Based on Xenophobia, Not Facts

Research shows that increases in immigration correspond to significant drops in violent crime.

A fence separates the US and Mexico in a photo taken on February 17, 2014. Donald Trump's "skinny budget" reveals plans to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on his proposal to build a "great wall" on the US's southern border. (Photo: BBC World Service)

President Donald Trump repeatedly stated that his plan to build a “great wall” on the southern border would be funded by the government of Mexico, and that his administration’s ongoing crackdown on undocumented immigrants and their families would make the United States “safer for everyone” by kicking the “bad ones” out.

One by one, Trump’s claims are falling apart because they are built on fearmongering and xenophobia, not facts.

The budget proposal released by the White House this week reveals that Mexico is unlikely to be paying for the “big, beautiful wall” after all, and billions of federal dollars could be diverted to immigration enforcement and deportation efforts in 2018. Trump claims the funds are needed to keep the US “safe,” but the presence of immigrants does not make the US a more “dangerous” place to live. In fact, research suggests the exact opposite.

Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than US-born citizens, and violent crime rates have dropped as immigrant populations increased, according to a report released this week by The Sentencing Project. The new report also suggests that rising immigration may be a significant factor behind the decrease in violence nationwide over the past 25 years.

But don’t expect hard data to influence Trump, who shocked the world during his campaign when he accused Mexico of “sending” “criminals” and “rapists” over the border. News outlets routinely point out that Trump has never provided hard evidence to back up his claims that millions of immigrants voted illegally in the last election, or that immigrants are causing a scourge of crime.

“As National Immigration Law Center has argued in our court cases against the Muslim Ban, Trump’s policies are based on xenophobia and fear, not fact,” said Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst at the center, in reference to the White House’s attempts to temporarily ban travelers from majority-Muslim countries. (A federal court blocked the latest version of the ban this week.)

Meanwhile, a brutal immigration crackdown continues across the country. Reports of immigration agents arresting undocumented immigrants who are stopped for traffic violations on their way to work — or while dropping their kids off at schools — are making headlines on a regular basis. The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering making the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the border an official policy, causing outrage among immigrant mothers and human rights groups.

The crackdown is only the beginning of a multi-billion dollar law enforcement campaign that Trump has likened to a “military operation,” and the president is now asking taxpayers to foot the bill.

The White House’s budget blueprint would make deep cuts to environmental programs and social services while bolstering budgets for defense and homeland security. The budget calls for a $2.6 billion investment in “tactical infrastructure” and “border security technology,” including the border wall — a good sign that Mexico will not be paying for it, as that country’s leaders have already stated numerous times.

The budget would increase funding levels for immigration enforcement by $4.5 billion, including $3 billion for implementing a number of executive orders on immigration that Trump has issued since taking office. The orders greatly expanded the range of people targeted for deportation, and Trump wants the government spend a lot more money on policing to make those deportations happen. The budget asks Congress for $314 million to hire and train 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. ICE agents are generally responsible for busting down doors and raiding homes and businesses where immigrants live and work.

The White House also wants an additional $1.5 billion to expand the government’s already-vast network of jails that can hold immigrants for indefinite periods of time during deportation proceedings. Under Trump, the Justice Department has reversed steps taken by the Obama administration to move away from relying on private contractors to jail immigrants and other federal prisoners. President Obama announced the goal of ending federal private prison contracts after a series of untimely deaths and other human rights violations were uncovered at private facilities.

“Spending billions of dollars on a border wall and increased raids and enforcement does nothing to improve national security; it creates a climate of terror in our communities,” Vimo said. “Children across the nation are living in constant fear that when they come home from school, their parents will not be there because they have been detained or deported.”

Trump’s budget would be a major boon to private prison companies, which saw their stock values skyrocket as Trump became president and began rolling out his immigration policies. Contracts with ICE alone accounted for 28 percent of the $1.8 billion in revenue brought in last year by the nation’s largest private prison company, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), according to federal financial filings.

While companies like CoreCivic may be pleased with the budget proposal, Trump’s justification for the crackdown has always been wrapped in sensationalistic — and often outright xenophobic — rhetoric about the need to protect “the public.” Analysts say Trump’s budget and emerging fiscal agenda would offset increases in defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy by slashing funding for programs that benefit people with low and moderate incomes, including student aid, job training programs and medical subsidies, raising questions about whom Trump is really concerned with protecting.

Advocates for immigrants say the real threats are the increase in enforcement and the destabilization of communities.

“Tearing apart families does not make anyone safer and undermines our nation’s values,” Vimo said. “Instead of funding walls, we should be building bridges and funding education, child care and programs to make our communities stronger.”

Studies show immigrants, including juveniles, commit less crime than US-born citizens, according to the Sentencing Project report. Non-citizens are also underrepresented in the nation’s prison population, and the vast majority who are in prison were convicted of immigration violations or drug crimes.

Studies also show that violent crime rates tend to drop in areas where populations of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, have increased, and crime rates improve even more when immigrants are given political agency, according to the report.

That’s one reason why police departments in major cities across the country have refused to work with ICE on immigration enforcement. Police chiefs warn that immigration crackdowns actually undermine public safety by destabilizing neighborhoods.

The White House will release a detailed version of its budget proposal in the coming weeks. It is expected to meet resistance from Democrats and even some skeptical Republicans in Congress.

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