Trumped-up charges

The fear of immigration in Illinois belies the facts

click to enlarge Trumped-up charges
Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS
Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Brother Trump is the savior come to rescue America, in the opinion of a majority of self-identified Republicans. On the stump he works crowds into a fever with his perorations against immigrants (how he spells “Mexicans”) who are surging across our borders without papers or prospects, taking “our” jobs and bringing drugs and violence to “our” neighborhoods. These people must be got rid of if America is to stay great.

Me, I’d just as soon send Trump back to where he came from, but where, oh where might that be?

Back in December I described the historical dimension of Illinois’ and America’s periodic anti-immigrant convulsions in “Wrong in principle.” Erika Holst added to the historical background in last week’s “Trump has nothing on Know-Nothings,” and in this issue with “When Springfield took in Portuguese refugees,” on page 22. For nearly 200 years, arguments have seldom prevailed in calming the fear and loathing with which so many of our people regard immigrants, authorized and otherwise

Why then attempt more arguments against the arguments against immigration? Partly because that is what I am paid to do, partly because I fear that our neo-nativists are pulling the old propagandist’s trick of repeating a lie so often that people begin to believe it because so many people seem to be saying it.

Illinois is home to the sixth largest immigrant population in the U.S., yet anti-immigrant hysteria has not approached the levels seen in southern California or Texas or Arizona. It helps that most of the voters most prey to Trumpish fantasies – meaning youngish, uneducated white males – live downstate while most immigrants do not. Only 10 percent of the estimated half-million or so undocumented immigrants in Illinois, for example, live outside Chicagoland, that seething cesspit in which foreignness of every sort finds a home.

The other reason is that, for all the shouting about undocumented immigrants overrunning the border, there just aren’t that many of them. In 2012 they amounted to only a little more than half a million people (their being undocumented, it’s hard to know exactly), which is roughly 5 percent of the state’s workforce, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Someone should count out 95 pennies on the table, then count out 5 more, then ask Mr. Trump to look at the two piles and say, “The little pile is Them. The real big pile is Us.”

Rapists and murderers? Even the Wall Street Journal concedes that studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants – regardless of nationality or legal status – are less likely than natives to commit violent crimes. (For example, the Immigration Policy Center notes that while the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent.) And proportionally fewer young immigrant males are in jail compared to natives.

As for depressing U.S. wages by working cheap: There are still lots of unskilled crap jobs like picking field crops or emptying out bedpans that need doing but that natives generally won’t take. As a result, unemployment among recent immigrants is lower than among natives of like education. The only wage competition is at the bottom, between immigrants and native high school dropouts; it is foolish to deny the U.S. a transfusion of energetic and ambitious newcomers to protect a segment of the native workforce that is going to be impossible to employ anyway. And undocumented immigrants make jobs as well as take them; if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Illinois, the state would lose $25.6 billion in economic activity, $11.4 billion in gross state product, and more than 100,000 jobs, according to finance consultants the Perryman Group.

In one sense, immigrants are the cause, indirectly, of one of Illinois’ graver if under-appreciated crises. In the 1990s, the net population increase in greater Chicago, Illinois’ economic engine, owed almost entirely to immigrants, documented and otherwise. From 2000 to 2010, over half of the Chicago metro area’s population gain was attributable to immigration, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Between 2010 and today? Chicago added only 82 residents last year, making it the mopiest among the nation’s 10 biggest cities. What happened? Fewer immigrants are coming into the U.S. and fewer of the ones who do are coming to Illinois.

Will this recitation of facts change the mind of even one of our neo-nativists? I doubt it. Tell a kid that no bogeyman is in her closet; whether she believes you depends on whether she trusts you. Trump’s followers don’t believe facts because they don’t trust the kind of people who use facts as a way to understand the world. And once any people lose faith in their ability to understand new realities, “citizens choose to escape from reality and find consolation in dreams.”

Those wise words are from Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business – who emigrated to this country 27 years ago.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at [email protected].

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