As election coverage begins to heat up while we grow closer to the year mark before voting season, we will see a lot of rhetoric thrown around as candidates talk about the issues that are important to their lobbyists. However, in the constant calls for change from Democratic and Republican politicians alike, the political arena occasionally sensationalizes topics that are really non-issues.
One such area of aggrandized concern this political season is illegal immigration. Perhaps motivated by the murder of Kate Seinle, conservative-leaning politicians and public figures alike have brought the issue back into the political realm with the hopes of changing federal immigration policy. Republican representatives in the House have tried to pass measures to crack down on “sanctuary cities,” and Donald Trump is calling for a wall to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Aside from any disagreements with these proposals, the biggest issue with this rhetoric is that illegal immigration into our country has not really changed significantly since the last time the topic was in the political arena, and it’s not nearly as threatening to our country as it is claimed to be.
The rate of illegal immigration into our country has actually decreased over the past decade. While we have seen the numbers rise slightly over the last two years, that increase can be mainly attributed to our economic recovery since immigration hit its lowest point in recent years in 2011. Overall, the rate of illegal immigration is significantly lower than it was a decade ago.
Furthermore, the problems that political figures commonly associate with illegal immigrants — violent crime and overuse of social services — have not been proven to be linked to them. Violent crime in the U.S. has decreased to levels not seen since the 1970s, and some research has indicated that illegal immigrants are actually less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born people. While the murder of Kate Seinle is easy to politicize in calls for stricter immigration policy, it actually stands out as an anomaly to what researchers and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have found: the amount and concentration of illegal immigrants bear no statistical relationship to crime rates.
Illegal immigrants have also not been shown to use social services or public assistance programs any more than the average person. If anything, immigrants here illegally actually use social services less than most people, as some studies have shown. As the ACLU points out, many welfare programs require some duration of time as a legal citizen to qualify, and this can actually lead to illegal immigrants paying taxes without seeing all the benefits legal citizens enjoy. A study done by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that over 70 percent of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. last year paid a collective total of $11 billion in taxes.
I realize that in this era of 24-hour news cycles and election seasons that push 18 months, news stations and candidates need a lot of material to recycle to fill the airwaves and reach the public. But we would all be better served to spend our time on issues that are actually worth our attention.
There are issues with illegal immigration, such as the human rights concerns that come with punishing and deporting people for crossing arbitrary lines, that could and should receive more attention. Perhaps we could talk about how American politics and news media are largely run by and for the wealthy elite? Illegal immigration should be the least of our concerns.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.