Tonight, we’ll see the 7th GOP Presidential Debate, but how will the public parse truth from fiction? Recently The Conversation asked four scholars to choose and fact-check one statement from the 6th GOP debate. Stealing the show was tonight’s ostensible no-show, The Donald, conflating refugees with immigrants, and both with crime.
To be fair, nearly all the candidates conflate immigrants and refugees, and, in the 6th Debate, they reduced the topics to one: national security. According to sociologist David Cook Martin, refugees are a legal category defined by United Nations, and they undergo an extensive screening process, while immigrant status is determined by U.S. law. The emphasis on immigrants and refugees as a security threat thus leaves no room for acknowledging the ways migration has helped the U.S.:
To reduce immigration and refugee policy to a matter of national security overlooks the considerable extent to which the cultural, social and economic success of the United States has been linked to migration, including that of the families of five of [the GOP] debate participants. Immigration policy is a complex weighing of security matters, but also of geopolitical interests, economics and the diversity of people and perspectives that have informed U.S. success.
Trump also claimed that migrants coming to the U.S. are primarily “strong, powerful men,” again drawing on stereotypes of immigrants and refugees as threats (previously, he had notoriously said that Mexican immgirants, in particular, were rapists and drug dealers). Hadar Aviram, professor of law, points out that this is plain old wrong. First, of the 1,682 Syrian refugees entering the U.S. last year, 77% were women. And while immigrants are often associated in the popular imagination with criminality, scholars agree—and sociologist Ruben Rumbaut has shown time and time again—that immigrants actually commit less crime than native-born Americans. Aviram argues that Trump is distracting the public from other issues, like the tax breaks for the wealthy he plans to make and that might actually harm middle-class and working-class Americans, by drawing attention to a “demonized ‘other.’”