With tonight’s State of the Union, President Donald Trump will likely take another opportunity to disparage immigrants and communities of color. Included on the guest list – and sitting alongside Melania Trump in the “first lady’s box” – are an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and two families of teens allegedly killed by MS-13 gang members in Long Island. The inclusion of Air Force veteran Celestino “CJ” Martínez, Elizabeth Alvarado and David Mickens, parents of Nisa Mickens, and Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, parents of Kayla Cuevas, serve to remind the US population that to Trump, immigrant remains one of the biggest threats facing the country.
However, this irresponsibly and unfairly paints immigrants as criminals. Several surveys show that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. “They are very motivated to not blow that opportunity by getting in trouble with the police,” Walter A. Ewing, a senior researcher at the American Immigration Council, told PolitiFact. “This is especially so for unauthorized immigrants, who can be deported at any time for unlawful presence.”
And though PolitiFact acknowledges that there’s more research needed about immigration crime, it finds that it is mostly true that undocumented immigrants commit less crimes than US-born citizens.
As far as MS-13, Trump has used the international street gang – which got its start in the United States – to criminalize Central American immigrants. In 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly arrested 796 people affiliated with MS-13. However, experts say these numbers are likely inaccurate, with the immigration agency attempting to identify potential members through tattoos and clothing, Newsweek reports. “We’ve seen young people labeled as gang members because they are wearing a T-shirt and a teacher at a school who is not a trained expert thought they overheard something,” Walter Barrientos of Make the Road New York told Newsweek. “We’ve seen young people wearing a T-shirt that other young people are wearing and because they happen to be an immigrant or Central American, that has been used as evidence against them.”