President Trump has wasted no time in cracking down on immigration. He pledged to build a wall, hire 15,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents and speedily deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He justified these actions by claiming that immigrants regularly flout the “rule of law and pose a threat.” In his first speech to Congress, he directed the Department of Homeland Security to create a new office — Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or Voice — dedicated to helping victims of crimes perpetrated by “removable aliens.”
I am an immigrant and an American citizen, and, as a philanthropist, have supported migrants all over the world for more than 30 years. Based on my experience and the facts, the president’s approach to immigrants is just wrong — and a new round of court injunctions against Mr. Trump’s latest proposed travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries suggests many in the federal judiciary agree. It does nothing to make America safer, while whipping up emotions against immigrants that have translated into an alarming surge in hate incidents all across our nation. My heart goes out to the victims of violence, whatever the source. But in the name of protecting the population from a relatively minor source of concern, he is branding all immigrants as criminals.
Contrary to Mr. Trump’s claims, immigrants commit significantly less crime than native-born citizens. This has been borne out in study after study, using a wide range of methodologies, dating back decades. According to the nonpartisan American Immigration Council, the percentage of the population that is foreign-born grew to 13.1 percent from 7.9 percent between 1990 and 2013. F.B.I. data shows that the violent crime rate dropped 48 percent during that time and today remains near historic lows. A recent study by the Journal on Ethnicity in Criminal Justice shows that immigrants actually drive down crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live.
But targeting immigrants and minorities with false and prejudicial rhetoric, as Mr. Trump has done during the campaign and in the early weeks of his presidency, has spurred a surge in hate acts against them. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that hate incidents reported in the first few weeks following Mr. Trump’s victory were at levels normally seen over a six-month period. No community appears safe from this rash of hate — with reports like school bullying against Muslim children, stories of Latinos being harassed on the street and told to “go back to your country,” attacks on blacks and gays, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. This is a country that prides itself on neighbors looking out for one another. In Donald Trump’s America, we are increasingly at one another’s throats.
As hate incidents surged after the election last fall, I announced a $10 million investment to provide legal and social services to victims of hate crimes, to encourage local organizations across the country to do the same and to propose improvements and new ideas. This week we opened our Hate Incident Database to monitor the scope and depth of hate incidents across the country.
Having survived the Nazi persecution of Jews in Hungary, I escaped from Soviet occupation at age 17 and made my way first to Britain and then to America. This is not the America that attracted me. I have seen the damage done when societies succumb to the fear of the “other.” And I will do all I can to help preserve the openness, inclusiveness and diversity that represent our greatest strength.
Demonizing immigrants weakens our country. Fighting against hate crimes makes us grow stronger together.