Critics worried over Trump's call to report crimes by undocumented immigrants

Story highlights

  • Trump made the victims of criminal undocumented immigrants a rallying cry throughout the campaign
  • Advocates for undocumented immigrants fear that the reporting is solely designed to skew public opinion

Washington (CNN)A little-noticed provision in President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration this week mandates reporting of crimes by undocumented immigrants -- a policy that advocates are concerned could amount to propaganda against immigrants.

The provisions are nestled in Trump's executive order on securing the nation's interior.
One provision directs the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to create an "Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens." That office would offer services to victims of such crimes and to their family members, and would provide reports quarterly "studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States."
    In a different section of the order, regarding sanctuary cities, the measure commissions a weekly report to publish a list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and to name and shame jurisdictions that ignored detention requests in relation to them. The goal is "to better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions."
    But advocates for undocumented immigrants fear that the reporting is solely designed to skew public opinion.
    "The obvious intent of a provision like that is to provide a misleading view of what sanctuary jurisdictions are really doing," said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project.
    The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
    Supporters of policies that offer leniency to undocumented immigrants who are otherwise upstanding members of society say that data shows that undocumented immigrants and immigrants in general commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population.
    One study from the American Immigration Council analyzed available data to find immigrants were less likely than native-born Americans to engage in criminal behavior, and a recent study by the Center for American Progress argues sanctuary cities enjoy lower crime and better economies than their non-sanctuary counterparts. Both organizations support pro-immigration policies.
    Trump made the victims of violent crime committed by undocumented immigrants a rallying cry throughout the campaign. He would frequently mention by name families like those of Kate Steinle, a young woman in San Francisco who was shot and killed allegedly by a repeat felon who had been deported numerous times.
    Advocates of Trump's approach say that the rate of crime among immigrants is irrelevant.
    "The point is that every crime that is committed by someone who is here illegally is a crime that would not occur if they weren't in the country," said Hans von Spakovsky, a legal expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been influential in advising the Trump administration.
    Von Spakovsky said the provisions are merited for the sake of data.
    "I think that's a very important piece of transparency," von Spakovsky said. "That is something that those in favor of illegal immigration have long tried to ignore and cover up. They don't want the public to know about the Kate Steinles of the world who have been killed by illegal aliens, who were released by sanctuary cities instead of being given to the feds to deport."
    Still, Jadwat argues that focusing specifically on crimes ignores the good that undocumented immigrants can do in their communities.
    "The truth is that there are undocumented immigrants all over our country in all of our communities who are working to make everyone safer, to increase the wealth in their communities, who are part of the civic fabric, who have family members who are US citizens, who are key contributors to the health of our communities, and what publishing a list like this is trying to do is to ignore those facts and ignore the reasons why mayors and police chiefs and sheriffs around the country have made the decision to do what's best for their communities in a constitutional fashion," Jadwat said.
    Washington University law professor Stephen Legomsky called the quarterly victimization reports "problematic," saying its goal seems to be painting an image of undocumented immigrants in the public's mind, despite evidence of lower crime rates.
    But he also said the measure would likely survive constitutional challenge. Unlike, for example, mandating similar crime reporting for a particular race, the courts give federal officials latitude to make decisions about immigration policy.
    "I think any information that is arguably relevant to immigration policy discussions is probably fair game," Legomsky said. "The government is allowed to do things to noncitizens that it isn't allowed to do to citizens."
    A former ICE acting director under former President Barack Obama said whether the reporting is legitimate depends on its effects and desired effects.
    "The more data that's known about the undocumented population the better," said John Sandweg, now at a private crisis management firm. "I certainly wouldn't limit it to crimes being committed."
    He said if a criminal is released, it makes sense for communities to be aware.
    "There is a role to play to make sure we know when serious criminals know are handed over; I don't think it's a problem to notify community members if people are released," Sandweg said. "To the extent it's turned into propaganda to feed this narrative, which has been proven false, that undocumenteds commit crimes at higher rates, that's a poor use of resources."