It’s time to start cleaning up the mess of misinterpretations about Donald Trump.
Back in June, I first saw Mr. Trump announcing his candidacy for president. What he said about unauthorized immigrants seemed ridiculous so I laughed. I showed the video to friends, and I laughed again. His words were poorly chosen.
But something worse happened. People interpreted Trump’s words in the most awful and offensive ways.
In one of my courses, at the University of Texas at Austin, I asked my students: “What has Donald Trump said that you found most offensive?” One student raised her hand high: “He said that all Mexicans are rapists.” I asked a coworker the same question. He replied: “He said that all Mexican immigrants are rapists.”
I explained that Trump said no such thing. This is what Trump said:
“When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. [...] When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you; they’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting.”
You might well dislike Trump’s words. I did. But let’s not make it worse. He did not say that all Mexicans are rapists. Yet that’s what many commentators did. For example, Politico misquoted Trump by omitting his phrase about “good people.” They said he was “demonizing Mexicans as rapists.” They argued that Mexicans do not really commit more rapes in the U.S. than whites. But that’s not what Trump claimed.
Similarly, other news sources misrepresented his words in offensive ways:
The New York Times: “Trump’s claim that illegal Mexican immigrants are ‘rapists.”
Time Magazine: “Trump’s comment that Mexican immigrants are ‘rapists.’”
Associated Press: “Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals”
CBS News: “Trump defends calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists.’”
L.A. Times: “describing Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists.’”
Fortune: “in a speech branding Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.”
Hollywood Reporter: “he referred to Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists.’”
Huffington Post: “He called Latino immigrants ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists.’”
The Washington Post: “He referred to Mexicans as “rapists.”
Compare such words with Trump’s words. Which is worse? Writers excerpted the phrase: “they’re rapists,” as if it were about all Mexican unauthorized immigrants, or worse, about all Mexican immigrants, or even worst, about all Mexicans. But that’s not what he said. That’s not what he meant. It was just a remark about some of the criminals crossing the border.
The trick for misrepresenting Trump’s words can be used against anyone.
For example, on October 7, at a Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton answered the question: “Which enemy are you most proud of?” She replied: “In addition to the NRA, um, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, um, the Iranians.”
If you do to her what the media did to Trump, then you should believe that Hillary Clinton is proud to be the enemy of 77 million citizens of Iran, plus millions more living outside Iran, including mothers, children, and disabled people. But that’s not what she meant.
On November 6, at the MSNBC Democratic Candidates Forum, Bernie Sanders said: “we have to pass a constitutional amendment that everyone in America who is 18 years old or older is registered to vote.” He said everyone. Someone might then write: “He proposed that everyone who is in the U.S. should vote, everyone who is 18, even illegal immigrants, tourists, and terrorists.” But that’s not what he meant.
It is no wonder that many people think the media is grossly dishonest. No wonder Mr. Trump’s critiques of the media make his followers cheer.
Trump was discussing crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants. Is it true that some people who illegally cross the border from Mexico are good? Yes. Is it true that some others commit crimes? Yes. Is that a problem? People disagree. Some conjecture that unauthorized immigrants don’t commit more crimes than U.S. citizens. But crimes by unauthorized immigrants, even murders, would not have happened if those individuals had not entered the U.S.
Time for a disclosure. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Spanish is my first language. I voted for Obama. I live in liberal Austin, Texas, where I work as a tenured professor of history. I’ve never voted for a Republican. My preferred candidate for U.S. president would be Elizabeth Warren. Since she is not running, my preferred candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Anyhow, discussions about illegal immigration are ruined by lack of data. I asked my friends, university faculty: “How many people do you think are deported per year in the U.S.?”
There are two kinds of deportations: some are caught near the border and “returned,” others are “removed” by a court order. Consider the border patrol agents, personnel, the bureaucracy, the lawyers, the resources needed to find people and deport them. How many were deported in 2014?
One of my friends guessed 3,000. Another guessed 10,000. Another guessed 50,000—which would really be a lot of people, imagine.
Actually, in fiscal year 2014, the U.S. deported a total of 893,238 foreigners! That’s a huge number. It includes 577,295 deported by the Department of Homeland Security, plus 315,943 deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Among the latter, 2,802 were classified as suspected or confirmed gang members.
Since 1990, the average is 1.2 million deportations per year. The highest in U.S. history was 1.86 million foreigners deported in the year 2000. That’s astonishing.
How many were criminals?
We don’t know because most criminals are not caught. Plus, many who are accused are not convicted because of a lack of evidence. Still, in 2014, the U.S. deported 177,960 convicted criminals. Surprisingly, 91,037 were already convicted criminals before they even entered the U.S.
At the University of Texas at Austin, the football stadium can seat 100,119 people. I have seen it full. I’ve see more than 100,000 people at once—it’s an incredible sight. It’s a staggering swarm of people. I have seen them yelling all at once.
It is utterly astonishing to me that this stadium would fail to seat all the convicted criminals deported in a single year.
Back to Mr. Trump. Did he unfairly single out Mexicans when complaining about crimes by unauthorized immigrants?
By far, most Mexicans are good people. However, since Mexico shares a large frontier with the U.S., and many Mexicans face economic hardships, most of the reported illegal immigration into the U.S. is from Mexico. Accordingly, in recent years roughly 76% of criminal unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico.
What kinds of crime? It is strangely difficult to find national statistics on homicides, sexual assaults, and thefts, by unauthorized immigrants. But there is relevant data for some states.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified 207,076 foreign aliens who were booked into Texas county jails from October 2008 through August 1, 2014. Their term “foreign aliens” includes both foreigners who are in Texas legally and foreigners who entered illegally. They were accused of 357,884 crimes in those 70 months, including these charges: 4,413 terroristic threats, 60,973 robberies and larcenies, 6,636 vehicle thefts, 78,682 assaults, 12,869 sexual assaults and offenses, 1,113 kidnapping, and 3,089 homicides.
That includes, an average of 1,383 charges of sexual assaults per year, in Texas alone. The real number of rapes and sexual assaults is larger since many victims do not report these crimes. According to the National Crime and Victimization Survey, 2008-2012, approximately 68% of sexual assault crimes are not reported. So I estimate that foreigners commit roughly 4,000 sexual assaults in Texas each year.
In Texas, roughly 529 foreigners per year were accused of committing murder. Plus, the FBI reports that 36% of homicides nationwide remain unsolved.
These crime rates are staggering and offensive. None of the women and men who were killed in by unauthorized immigrants in Texas would have died if the murderers had not entered the U.S. illegally.
These are not just words. Pause for a moment to think about a Texas woman whose husband was murdered one night. Think about parents who never saw their son again because he was murdered. Think of the thousands of families standing at the cemeteries.
I’ve only summarized murders and sexual assaults. Consider drugs and drug violence. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most illegal drugs come from Mexico, including most cocaine and heroine. Most methamphetamines also are smuggled from Mexico. The 2015 National Drug Threat Survey finds that methamphetamines are the drugs that most contribute to property crimes and violent crimes. You get the point. There are tremendous problems of drugs, murders, and rapes caused at the porous border.
Without knowing the data, it was easy to be offended by Mr. Trump’s crude words when he announced his candidacy. However, seeing the data above, I understand his concerns.
Here’s what Trump said right after his words quoted above:
“And it only makes common sense, it only makes common sense: they’re sending us not the right people, and it’s coming from more than Mexico, it’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably, probably from the Middle East. But we don’t know because we have no protection, and we have no competence. We don’t know what’s happening. And it’s gotta stop. And it’s gotta stop fast.”
We can disagree about some points. Is the Mexican government really sending criminals to the U.S.? On July 5, Trump said: “The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” This claim might be false if Mexico does not intentionally send criminals to the US. At its best, this statement seems plausible if Trump meant that conditions generated in Mexico by its government lead some criminals to the U.S.
In any case, Trump proposes to secure the southern border by implementing various security measures. His most recurring proposal is to build a wall, along areas of the border lacking natural barriers.
His proposal has been widely criticized. Some people construed it as a sign of racism, xenophobia, etc. However, I can understand why many of Trump’s followers actually cheer: “Build the Wall! Build the Wall!”
First, there are the worries about murders, drugs, crimes, and terrorism. Presently, countless many unauthorized immigrants walk into the country, unchecked. In fiscal year 2014, the Border Patrol made 468,407 apprehensions along the southwest border. By comparison, the Border Patrol only made 18,244 apprehensions in all other regions.
But one point sticks in my mind. Namely this: there already exist a long series of fences and walls between Mexico and the U.S. These fences and walls span parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. As of early 2012, the Department of Homeland Security had completed 652 miles of fences and walls. Trump did not build all that. It was mandated by Congress. Walls are common along many countries' borders, such as Spain, China, France, Greece, Pakistan, Israel, etc. The border between the U.S. and Mexico spans roughly 1,950 miles. Trump wants a wall that will be 1,000 miles long, including areas already covered.
I’m not trying to convince you about a wall. My point is just that it’s neither impossible nor ridiculous. A main reason why many border areas have fences instead of walls is just that walls are more expensive.
Trump says that everyone who didn’t enter the U.S. legally should return to their countries. “They have to go.” We might well disagree. But his view is closer to Immigration law. If you prefer amnesty then lawmakers have to create a law to that effect. Trump insists: “I want people to come in, but they have to come in legally.”
Regardless, countless many people think that Trump is racist against Mexicans. I suggest that anyone who thinks that should count how many times Trump has praised Mexicans.
Most unauthorized immigrants are good people. But still, the media wrongly blamed Mr. Trump for their own misrepresentations.