Fact #1: Undocumented immigrants are not criminals and do not contribute to higher crime rates in American communities.
Being in the U.S. without documentation is considered a civil matter, not a crime, per Arizona v. U.S. Supreme Court, 2012. An increase in the immigrant population does not lead to higher crime rates but instead has either an opposite effect or no relationship at all.
According to a recent analysis of data in each decade from 1980 to 2016; most crime increases happened in 1990s and early 2000s. In Knoxville, immigration increased by 294% between 1980 and 2016 but violent crime increased by 12% during this period. Knoxville has been experiencing a downward trend in the last few years.
For a long time, I did not didn’t know anyone who was an undocumented immigrant, at least not that I was aware of. In the past five years, I’ve come to know a number of students, parents, and families who are undocumented through Maryville College, Lenoir City High School, and other East Tennessee cultural and educational events.
Their stories, challenges, and barriers vary depending on individual circumstances, but their hopes are similar – similar in fact to my own in many ways.
They hope for a good future for their children and families, for strong communities where neighbors can rely on one another. Those who are high school or college students share goals of being successfully academically, and of finding a professional path that matches their own passions with ways to serve the world.
The parents I talk with want to support their children, to be active participants in their children’s schools, in their faith communities, and in the broader community.
The low crime rates stated above regarding undocumented immigrants speak for themselves, but personally, the myth that undocumented immigrants are criminals seems very far from my own experiences.
In fact, when I hear a rare news story about a crime involving an undocumented person, I have the same reaction as when I hear about a school shooting involving another young white gunman.
Just as I don’t assume that the school shooting story is evidence of a general problem with the overall white male community, I don’t assume anything about the general community of people who are undocumented.