Ann Coulter is a difficult person to critique: not because there isn’t a mountain of things to criticize about her, but because she has made her career by deliberately courting public outrage. This is a counterintuitively effective way to neutralize your critics’ worst attacks. Sure, it’s not hard to compile a list of Coulter’s most demented quotations (for example, “We should invade [the home countries of 9/11 terrorists], kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity,” or “I think women should be armed but should not vote.”) But the people who love her love her, and the people who hate her hate her: what more is there to say? What damning evidence of Ann Coulter’s prejudice and callous indifference to human suffering could you bring to light that she hasn’t already shouted from the hilltops? Since Coulter is manifestly uninterested in debate, most of her detractors have long since decided that it’s futile to engage with her ideas—especially when her whole personality presents such a tempting target for ad hominem attacks. But this, too, is a losing strategy. In September 2016, Comedy Central brought Coulter onstage on a flimsy pretense and roasted her for hours, a cringe-inducingly savage barrage of insults that revealed the depth of hatred that many people feel towards her. Coulter smiled fixedly through the whole ordeal, made some lame jokes, and plugged her latest book on Donald Trump. On the subsequent press circuit, she breezily deflected questions about the roast by remarking, accurately, that it had not been very funny. Two months later, Trump won the presidential election.
If we draw any useful lessons from these interesting political times, one of them certainly ought to be that personal insults are rarely effective weapons against individuals who are constitutionally incapable of shame. If anything, it only makes the people lobbing the grenades look like assholes, as they scramble more and more wildly for any ammunition that might surprise a reaction out of their target. In the Age of Trump, Ann Coulter’s ideas must be dealt with directly, not dismissed out of hand simply because she is an unlikeable, outrage-peddling pundit. Her 2015 immigration manifesto, ¡Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third-World Hellhole, was for some time on the top of the New York Times and Washington Post bestseller lists, and thus has presumably been read by a not-insignificant number of people, though the only major outlet that reviewed it at any length was the National Review. (Senior editor Jay Nordlinger concurred with most of Coulter’s points, qualifying his enthusiasm with a magnanimous aside about how he supports immigration restriction reluctantly as a matter of principle despite having been sexually attracted to the young Latina bank teller who ordered him a new checkbook the previous day.)
¡Adios, America! may not have received much attention in the mainstream press when it was first published, but Coulter’s assiduous promotion of her book won her more powerful allies than newspaper reviewers. Ahead of the book’s scheduled publication, Coulter sent out advance copies, annotated with Post-It notes, to Republican presidential hopefuls. Coulter claims that Trump later told her that he had read the book “cover to cover.” (He probably meant that he read both sides of the dust jacket.) On May 26, 2015, just ahead of the book’s public release, Trump tweeted: “.@AnnCoulter’s new book– “¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole”– is a great read. Good job!” Less than a month later, Trump launched his candidacy with an anti-immigration message right out of Coulter’s playbook: “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Of course, it’s possible to overstate the significance of the connection between Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and Coulter’s book—many of the early Trump true-believers who helped make his candidacy viable, like Jeff Sessions, have long advocated restrictionist immigration policies—but it’s also worth mentioning that Trump’s campaign followed the electoral strategy advocated by Coulter at the end of her book. Pro-immigration Republicans like Jeb Bush, she suggested, were doomed to fail: “It’s a sucker’s game to think that Republicans can ever get to the Democrats’ left on immigration.” Instead, she prescribed an explicitly nativist platform: “The GOP’s only move is to run the table on white voters, as Reagan did. By unapologetically opposing the transformation of America into a Third World country, the GOP would sweep the white vote—once white people recovered from the shock of any candidate asking for their vote.” Coulter, evidently, was much wiser to the way the wind was blowing in 2015 than many respectable commentators and pollsters.
I recently suffered through the entirety of ¡Adios, America!, and I now bring the fruits of my joyless researches back to you all. My goal here is not to systematically refute every single one of Ann Coulter’s claims, which would be tedious. For one thing, some of her claims are so silly that I don’t even know what would qualify as a refutation. She spends seventeen entire pages trying to prove that Mexican immigrants litter too much in national parks. I, uh, don’t think that’s true?—but even if it were, I’m not prepared to seal the border over it. Sweeping declarations such as “one hundred percent of refugee and asylum claims are either obvious frauds or frauds that haven’t been proven yet” also feel pointless to address at any length. Is the war in Syria a mass hallucination? Are the Rohingya perpetrating a 600,000-person hoax? Or is it that all the real refugees are sitting around twiddling their thumbs, while only the fake refugees bother to go register themselves with UNHCR or an asylum office? Who the hell knows.
The book is at its most forceful and unsettling, however, when it exploits fault-lines, hypocrisies, and blind spots in mainstream political rhetoric and reporting on immigration issues. My aim here is to show the strategies Coulter uses to make her points feel convincing to an unwary reader. I’ll also offer suggestions about what arguments the left should be using to counter this type of rhetoric, and, in the process, make its own positions on immigration more coherent, persuasive, honest, and moral.
¡Adios, America! takes an inclusive, kitchen-sink approach to anti-immigration arguments, but the general thrust of the narrative is this. The United States is the greatest country in the world, because it was founded by white Protestant Anglo-Saxons, the most civilized, peace-loving, and tolerant folk the world has ever seen—with a little help from their slaves. (She throws in a couple paragraphs about the wonderful contributions of black people to American culture, as a poorly-camouflaged tiger-trap for those who would accuse her of racism.) Since our immigration laws were altered in 1965, however, this biracial entente has been threatened by hordes of newcomers from third-world countries. In particular, Mexicans have flooded over our porous border at unprecedented rates, as Mexico has descended into an orgy of cartel-fuelled barbarity. Most of these new immigrants hail from backward “peasant cultures,” and when they enter the U.S., they bring their tribal and misogynistic cultural mores with them. These immigrants are not only taking American jobs, but committing crimes—especially sex crimes—at an astonishing rate. The liberal media has systematically concealed this crime wave through selective and dishonest reporting. The only solution to this problem is to completely secure the southern border with a fortified wall, and to declare a near-total moratorium on legal immigration, with possible exceptions for highly-skilled professionals from European countries. There should be no amnesty for undocumented people currently in the U.S. under any circumstances.
To a lot of left-leaning people, the above summary will sound like xenophobic tin-hat conspiracy theorizing of the most implausible kind. They will point to frequently-cited statistics showing that immigration helps the economy, that immigrants pay taxes, and that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans. But Coulter has a counter-point to every one of those claims. Her book is replete with citations, adding up to nearly a hundred pages of end notes. It’s very easy to imagine how, if a person came to this book with limited background knowledge, and a willingness to be persuaded—perhaps because they want to believe that immigration is dangerous, perhaps because they want to agree with the person who lent them the book, perhaps because they want to think of themselves as a hard-nosed realist who can accept Difficult Truths—they might find it at least partially persuasive. Even a left reader might at times stop to wonder—could some of this be true? Have I been wrong all this time? It’s precisely this quality that makes ¡Adios, America! (and the many right-wing articles and exposes that advance similar arguments) so insidious.
In a spirit of generosity, I will mention that there are a few points Coulter makes that I don’t entirely disagree with. For example, she argues that neither Democratic nor Republican politicians have historically had any real incentive to control flows of undocumented people across the border. Democratic lawmakers want more immigrants to become citizens, because immigrants (especially Hispanic immigrants) tend to vote Democrat. Republicans are beholden to big business donors who want a cheap, exploitable workforce. Rich people of both parties want low-cost nannies, gardeners, and housekeepers. The middle-class taxpayer, meanwhile, subsidizes the immigrants’ stolen wages through welfare programs. (Undocumented people are ineligible for virtually all welfare programs, but it’s true that they can sign up for benefits on behalf of an eligible U.S. citizen child.) This explanation is overly simplistic, of course, but in its broadest strokes, I do not think she is wrong. Democratic candidates do use immigrant communities very cynically, making them glittering promises in election seasons, and then abandoning them whenever they decide to look rightward for votes. Big business, meanwhile, is always on the hunt for the cheapest possible labor. Most politicians are fully aware that large parts of the U.S. economy runs on the back of undercompensated immigrant labor. When either party makes noise about border security or calls for tighter immigration enforcement, it’s usually not because they really want fewer undocumented people in the workforce, but because they are hoping to direct low- and middle-income voters’ anger away from themselves and onto a totally vulnerable target. At times, Coulter almost sounds like a labor rights’ activist, as she complains that guest worker programs are forms of “indentured servitude” that keep immigrants beholden to sponsoring employers, and thus unable to negotiate vigorously for better working conditions.
But before you run away with the idea that Ann Coulter is some kind of undercover socialist, let me be very clear: Ann Coulter is a racist who believes that immigrants are less than human. (This theme will recur throughout this article.) The argument that immigration is inherently bad because our current laws create unfair conditions for immigrant workers is basically incoherent—if you were truly concerned about the welfare of immigrant workers, it makes more sense to guarantee them labor protections than to just ban all the aggrieved workers from the country—and Coulter doesn’t develop it beyond a few throwaway remarks. For the rest of the book, Coulter’s dominant message on immigrants and the economy is that we should—if we admit any immigrants at all—admit only those who have specific skill sets that benefit native-born Americans. This is the “points-based” or “merits-based” system touted by the Trump administration.
Now, “merits-based” immigration sounds perfectly reasonable to a lot of people: doesn’t it make sense that we would want to attract the best immigrants, the way a football team tries to recruit the best players? But what “merits-based immigration” actually amounts to is reducing human beings to a number that symbolizes their economic value. Most conservative politicians and commentators are coy about what this would look like in practice. Ann Coulter is not. Ann Coulter comes right out and says it: AMERICA DOESN’T WANT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. Why, she asks, should America accept immigration by “elderly relatives, arriving in wheelchairs”? Why should it accept pregnant women who will deliver “premature babies”? Excerpting from specific cases, she heaps scorn on immigration officials who approved the admission of a young man with a mental disability (“Please at least tell me that the mental impairment appeared after we were graced with Ikram’s presence!”) and a Somali family who immigrated from a refugee camp with a child “who is blind” [Coulter’s original emphasis, redolent of contempt]. “An immigration policy that benefits Americans would not result in news items like this one,” she states.
The takeaway message here is that people with disabilities are fit to die in camps. “White, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon America,” Coulter admonishes us at one point in the book, “has been a haven for minorities, women, children, plants, and animals.” Not people with disabilities, though! Sorry, you’re less deserving than plants.
Coulter thus makes it very clear that she doesn’t merely object to, say, immigrants who kill people in drunk driving accidents, or immigrants who migrated in order to “take American jobs,” or whatever other pat justification conservatives usually trot out. Even the most “sympathetic” and non-threatening immigrants are objects of disgust for her. That said, she reserves most of her fire for immigrants who have committed crimes: which, she thinks, is almost all of them.
Coulter trots out a lot of numbers to prove that immigrants commit crimes at a very high rate. These numbers are almost all garbage. I’d say this was a product of sloppy editing, but let’s be honest, it was probably deliberate. Coulter states, for example, that immigrants incarcerated in New York’s prisons are 70% percent more likely to have committed a violent crime than non-immigrants. This is a shocking statistic. It is also completely untrue. If you actually read the source Coulter cites—a 2008 report from the State of New York Department of Correctional Services—you will discover, first of all, that immigrants comprise 10.4% of the total prison population. (About 22% of the population of the state of New York are immigrants, by the way.) 89.5% of New York’s prisoners, i.e. the overwhelming majority, are native-born Americans. 70% of immigrant prisoners and 56% of native-born prisoners have committed violent crimes. As the report mentions, this disparity in percentages is at least partly due to the fact that immigrants arrested for less serious criminal offenses are usually whisked away by ICE and put into deportation proceedings, whereas immigrants who have committed violent crimes will more often serve a punitive prison sentence before they are ejected from the country. I am no mathematician, but I am pretty sure there is no way to slice this data that will give you “immigrants are 70% more likely to have committed violent crimes than non-immigrants.” At best, immigrants are 14% more likely to have committed violent crimes, but even that requires you to ignore all surrounding context. Coulter is simply lying.
In other places, Coulter manages not to thoroughly botch her numbers, but still presents them in a deliberately misleading manner. She breathlessly claims that Texas arrests “over 32,000 criminal aliens a year,” from which we are clearly meant to infer, I don’t know, that Texas is being terrorized by roving bands of immigrant desperadoes. What Coulter doesn’t mention is that between 2009 and 2015, Texas arrested anywhere from 800,000 to 1.4 million people a year, which would mean that that 32,000 is a mere drop in the bucket: somewhere between 1% and 4% of all arrests. When you consider that the population of Texas is estimated to be about 17% immigrants, 32,000 actually seems—way too low. If that figure is accurate (it’s probably not), it would be a signature data point in every pro-immigration white paper coming out of Texas. It certainly doesn’t point very convincingly in the direction that immigrants are about to murder U.S. citizens in their beds. But Coulter presents these numbers without any kind of qualification, and if you are like me, with a poor head for percentages and estimates, 32,000 might well sound like a big number.
This is one method, by the way, of dealing with people like Coulter: sifting through their evidence point by point, cross-checking all their sources, systematically showing how they are falsifying and misusing information. Is it the best method, though? I don’t really think so. That’s not to say that source-checking isn’t an extremely worthwhile and important thing to do, if you are interested in verifying the truth of an author’s claims firsthand, but catalogues of citational errors are not exciting reading, and thus, I imagine, do not make for very successful counter-propaganda. (That said, if you would like a complete list of all the errors and obfuscations I found in ¡Adios, America! on a single pass, please don’t hesitate to reach out.) And in fact, a large section of Coulter’s book is devoted to dismantling the idea that we have any reliable data on immigration and crime.
As Coulter points out—accurately—our major source of data on incarcerated immigrants only describes immigrants in federal prison. The vast majority of immigrants are in state and local jails, but those only release figures on prisoners’ citizenship status: it’s not broken down based on whether the individual is a legal or an undocumented immigrant. Certain other subcategories of immigrant, such as those in immigration detention, may be completely missing from these data sets. Some studies on immigrant crime rely on self-reporting on census forms, which presents inherent problems. And of course, naturalized citizens, and first-generation citizen children of immigrant parents, are not counted as immigrants at all. This, to left-leaning people, seems uncontroversial: an American is an American, we think. But this is exactly what immigration restrictionists don’t think, and there is a kind of logic to their objection. If you wanted to prove that all immigrants are dangerous, what better evidence could you produce than the fact that even immigrants who proactively seek naturalization (which is supposed to be contingent on “good character”) end up committing crimes? That even their U.S.-born children turn out to be bad apples? Thus, though Coulter often cites statistics to give her text an appearance of authoritativeness, her main arguments on immigration and violence actually don’t rest on these statistics at all. What she principally argues, rather, is that we know almost nothing about how many crimes are being committed by immigrants—and into this terrifying informational abyss, she introduces a whole host of anecdotal evidence and suggestive speculations. What all this amounts to, in the end, is: don’t you FEEL like immigrants probably commit more crimes?
So where does this get us? On the one hand—looking at the numbers we do have, and feeling confident that Coulter’s scaremongering has no basis in fact—we can always just say, “Okay Ann, sure: let’s all agree that we need to collect better data on criminals, broken down more precisely by immigration status. When you see the real numbers, we’ll be the ones laughing.” But then we’ve implicitly accepted the premise that it’s appropriate to make immigration policy decisions by measuring criminality across demographic categories. In the absence of hard numbers, Coulter resorts to scattershot tactics, like looking at the U.S. Marshals’ Most Wanted list and remarking ominously that “ninety percent of the names… would not have been recognizable as names fifty years ago” and that “more than half the names are Hispanic.” (Side note: does Coulter think there weren’t any Hispanic names in the U.S. fifty years ago?) Amusingly, the day that I happened to view the U.S. Marshals’ Most Wanted list, it was full of exotic names like “Frederick McLean” and “Robert King.” Most of the twelve fugitives were just straight-up white guys. Only two individuals were born outside the U.S. The only plausibly Hispanic-sounding name on there was a U.S. citizen with the hyphenated surname “Abbot-Baerga.” But on a different day: who knows? Maybe there would have been more immigrants and “Hispanics” on the list, and I’d’ve had nothing to joke about.
Unless you irrationally believe that there is something inherent about “immigrants” that makes them less likely to commit crimes, the whole “immigrants commit fewer crimes” counter-argument is one that has to be deployed carefully. If you concede the viability of data-based profiling, you may find things you don’t like as you get deeper into the numbers. Are you going to presumptively bar immigration by specific kinds of people based solely on demographic markers of criminality? Suppose it turns out that immigrants overall commit fewer crimes, but immigrants of color commit more crimes than “white” immigrants. Suppose young male immigrants from specific countries commit more crimes than young men born in the U.S. Suppose all the numbers change in some unexpected way when you lump together immigrants and second-generation citizens into a single category. Suppose that when you break down the data minutely by immigration status, age, country of origin, and type of crime, you discover that some statistical subset of the immigrant population is disproportionately committing a particular type of crime.
This last speculation—that certain kinds of immigrants might commit certain types of crime with greater frequency—is one that Coulter explores at great length in ¡Adios, America! This the most disturbing and, probably, the most polemically effective part of the book. Her theory, you see, is that immigrants from “third world countries” are more prone to commit acts of violence against women and children. In particular, she claims, “Hispanic” immigrants, as a category writ large, disproportionately commit sex crimes against children and teenagers. Her “evidence,” predictably, is that when she searches a news database for stories about gang rape, child rape, and incest, a lot of Hispanic-sounding names come up. Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “‘People of color are rapists’ is literally the oldest trick in the book. Who the hell is still falling for this?”
But the way Coulter writes this section has a powerful emotional effect. She simply begins to recount, one after another after another, stories of horrific sexual violence. You will read about a sixteen-year-old girl gang-raped by a dozen teenagers and adults in the parking lot of her high school: brutally beaten, sodomized, urinated on, her unconscious body dragged by the feet across the concrete and abandoned by a dumpster. You will read countless stories of little girls molested, raped, impregnated by adult relatives and family friends. You will read about the infamous murders that led to the Supreme Court case Medellín v. Texas, where two 13-year-old girls stumbled across a gang meeting in a park and were raped in every conceivable fashion, after which their attackers strangled them to death, stomped on their corpses, and smashed their teeth. And so on, and so on, and so on. It is nightmare-making reading. It makes you feel confused and scared. These stories are not wild inventions: these are real things that happened to real people. You can look up the news articles. “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” readers may start to think, “what if—what if it turned out to be true?”
This section was especially disorienting for me, because I have spent time on the border working with women who have recently fled Central America and Mexico. I have heard hundreds of stories of rapes. Many of the women have sexual abuse histories going back into their childhoods, sometimes at the hands of their own relatives. They recount horrific episodes of abuse by men who thought they were trash, who thought of their bodies as objects for their use. To support their cases, I compiled newspaper articles, reports, and studies on violence against women in their region of origin. The phenomenon of men murdering women and mutilating their bodies in a sexualized manner is prevalent enough to have a special word, “feminicidio.” Gender-based violence, for which local authorities typically offer no or haphazard protection, is one of the major drivers of migration from Central America and Mexico. Feminists within these countries decry a machista culture that promotes and excuses violence against women and girls.
Anti-immigration activists are fond of remarking that when an immigrant crosses a border, they don’t magically change into a different person: they bring their prejudices and their habits with them. And this is not wrong. A man who abuses his wife or his niece or his girlfriend in one country will almost certainly continue to abuse her in a different country. There is something contradictory about taking very seriously the concerns of women’s rights activists within a particular country, but then dismissing outright the possibility that men migrating from those countries might continue to be a threat to women in the new places where they settle. Even if I don’t believe the absurd claim that “Hispanic” men are disproportionately prone to commit child rape, is there any chance that men migrating from countries where rates of physical and sexual violence against women and children are extremely high would commit those crimes at a higher rate in the U.S.? And what would we do if that were true?
Again, this is an area in which we have almost no reliable data. Police departments do not collect, or at any rate do not release, statistics about the race and immigration status of people arrested for sex crimes. The same kind of informational gap has given fuel to right-wing anti-immigration groups like VDARE in Europe, who promote the narrative that migrants and refugees from the Middle East and northern Africa are committing rape at a disproportionately high rate, and that the government, police, and media are colluding to cover it up. “That’s just crazy,” you might object. But this is the crux of the problem. Is the migrant-rapist theory created completely whole-cloth from anecdotes and speculation, in the absence of any consistent and reliable data? Yes. Does it feel like it could be true? Isn’t there a kind of logic to theorizing that men coming from countries where women are marginalized and there is general impunity for gender-based violence—countries that women are themselves fleeing because of gender-based violence—might be more likely to behave aggressively towards women? What if we started collecting more data and it validated some part of the right-wing narrative about immigrant violence against women?
How do we combat a narrative that we don’t have enough facts to prove or disprove, where our intuitions in either direction may well be unreliable guides? With sex crimes, in particular, it’s unlikely we would ever be able to get comprehensive data anyway: these crimes are certainly under-reported, and it would be hard to correct for how significantly the rate of non-reportage is likely to vary amongst different income, race, and immigration status groups. Ann Coulter would have us believe that “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen much [gang rape, child rape, and incest] in the United States.” (She then adds: “of course, there are lots of things we thought had been abolished a hundred years ago that our mass immigration policies are bringing back.” As an aside, isn’t it a bit peculiar that Ann Coulter believes that one hundred years ago, i.e. the year 1915, we “abolished” gang rape and incest in the U.S.? I’m not sure which is more surprising: the fact that Coulter apparently thinks child rape no longer happens amongst non-immigrants today, or that she acknowledges there was any child rape back in the Good Old Days when America was still white.) But it’s very clear that child rape and incest occur in native-born populations too. We don’t know the exact rate for certain. We don’t how greatly it differs from the rates in more “violent” countries. For all we know, the difference is less drastic than we think.
One thing to point out is that groups like VDARE and people like Ann Coulter rely very heavily on stories of immigrants attacking native-born women and children to make their scare tactics stick. This is despite the fact that rape is usually—and incest and domestic violence are by definition—crimes committed within families, meaning that, in most cases, the victims would be other immigrants. This is where the whole right-wing narrative starts to fall apart. Anti-immigration nativists want to seize the high ground on women’s and children’s rights in order to make left-wing people look like hypocrites. “Don’t you say you care about ‘rape culture’?” they wheedle. But the fact is, these people are racists who do not give a flying fuck if immigrant women and children are raped or killed. If men are indeed committing acts of violence against women and children in Mexico and Central America, they won’t stop committing them because we’ve put up a border wall. They’ll just commit them on their side of the wall, and their victims will have one fewer avenue of escape. As far as Coulter is concerned, that’s not our problem. Immigrant-on-immigrant crime in the U.S. is a bad thing because it distracts the police from protecting real Americans, not because it means that some immigrants are being injured or killed. When conservatives talk about “black-on-black” crime, they typically aren’t advocating for a greater investment of attention and resources in black communities: what they are actually implying is that the whole problem would go away if black people simply ceased to exist altogether. It’s the same thing here. Coulter has a lot of sympathy for American-born victims of violent crime, as indeed they deserve. By contrast, her total indifference to the lives of immigrant children is utterly chilling. Here are two representative passages:
“The defendant in a story the Chattanooga Time Free Press… was thirty-six-year-old German Rolando Vicente Sapon, an illegal alien from Guatemala. He had persuaded his sixteen-year-old first cousin, Yuria Vicente Calel, to join him in the United States, where he immediately began raping her, got her pregnant, and then began sexually abusing their infant daughter. So the good news is: They have an anchor baby!”
This case of incest, child rape, and murder was entirely an illegal immigrant affair. Baby Hope’s parents were illegal immigrants, the cousin who raped and murdered her was an illegal immigrant, and the cousin who helped dispose of the body was an illegal immigrant. Wouldn’t that be an important fact to put right up there in the headline? To even mention, at all? New York taxpayers had spent a kazillion dollars trying to solve this Baby Hope case. Weren’t they entitled to know? … The NYPD spent twenty-two years and a small fortune trying to solve a case that never should have taken place in this country in the first place. How many other crimes went unsolved because, for two decades, the police were pouring resources into a manhunt for a Mexican illegally in this country, who committed child rape and murder in New York City?
If you needed any further proof that Coulter considers immigrants sub-human, here it is. She literally believes that the sexual abuse of a woman and her infant is something to be glib about. She literally believes that investigating the rape and murder of a toddler was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Coulter is not outraged that that baby girl was molested. Coulter is outraged that she wasn’t molested in Guatemala. Coulter is not outraged that Baby Hope was raped, strangled, and discarded in a meat freezer. Coulter is outraged because Baby Hope’s brutalized body wasn’t discarded in a meat freezer in Mexico.
And thus we circle back to what is, in its way, a comforting fact. Anti-immigration activists of Coulter’s ilk are not people passionately advocating for what they believe is the most sensible and humane model of human governance. They are monsters who literally believe that non-American lives, especially non-white non-American lives, are worth less than dirt. They are the wealthy world’s equivalent of pandilleros and gangsters, people who hold human life cheap and do not care who they hurt, so long as they have their fun. (I’m certain Ann Coulter had fun writing this piece-of-shit book.) When the claims of people like Coulter make us feel uncomfortable, we must pay attention to that feeling, because we should always be looking for ways to correct our hypocrisies and improve our arguments. But there can be no true meeting of the minds between us and them, because their worldview is antithetical to those of us who believe in the universal brotherhood of man.
So how can we improve our arguments and our messaging on immigration and crime? I’m not saying we should avoid mentioning the macro-level statistics that suggest that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born people: it’s entirely appropriate to put those estimates forward to counteract individuals who speak as if a high immigrant crime rate is a proven fact. But it is not a silver bullet, and we should not treat it like one. By the same token, we also need to be less afraid of acknowledging that some immigrants, being humans, do commit crimes. Coulter mocks, with some justice, the frequent practice of journalists who hide the ball on the race or immigration status of criminal suspects in their reporting, burying this information late in the article or covering it with euphemisms. (Whenever I see “U.S. citizen” in a lede, I usually know what’s coming.) The fact is, if we think these demographic factors are sometimes relevant to understanding a crime—for example, when a white cop kills an unarmed black man—we should just get in the habit of stating the perpetrator’s and victim’s races, genders, immigration statuses (and so on), in a matter-of-fact way, uniformly across all crime reporting. To do otherwise creates the appearance that the media is hiding something, which is, I think, the worst possible outcome. Journalists should be more willing to simply state facts, and, where they think a fact may be taken out of context, supplement it with additional analysis. We cannot prevent badly-intentioned people from misusing facts. But we can do more to head off the charge that the media is proactively concealing dangerous truths from the public, which only encourages people to engage in free-floating speculation unconstrained by any empirical boundaries.
In the same interest of transparency, I don’t think we should oppose initiatives to improve data collection on crime, provided they are methodologically sound. But we also need to be more forceful in stating that we do not believe in racial or national-origin profiling in our immigration or our policing policies. This is because using demography as a proxy for criminality means punishing people for innate characteristics about themselves that they cannot help. After all, if we really wanted to reduce the U.S.’s rate of violent crime, the easiest thing to do would be to simply get rid of all men, immigrant and non-immigrant. Did you know that 90% of homicides in the U.S. are committed by men? We could basically eliminate murder in this country, and save a lot of taxpayer dollars. This is a good illustration of why profiling is wrong. Imagine applying for a visa or seeking asylum at a border, and being told, “Sorry, no—people with penises commit too many murders.” We must stand firm in our conviction that human beings are individuals and deserve to be treated as such, even when this is politically difficult.
We must also aggressively oust right-wingers from their hypocritical position as defenders of women’s and children’s rights against dangerous immigrants. We must emphasize that we, unlike people like Coulter, are committed to protecting victims of abuse, no matter who they are or where they live, and no matter who their abuser is. In fact, restrictive immigration policies increase violence against women and children: they trap them in violent regions, and cut off their ability to seek protection in a different country if their own country is unwilling or unable to help them. Restrictive immigration policies also prevent undocumented victims in this country from reporting their abusers to law enforcement, because they are afraid that the police will turn them over them to ICE, or that their abuser will do so when he finds out she talked. Many immigrant women have even been frightened to call domestic violence hotlines since Trump was elected.
Additionally—instead of focusing myopically on links between immigration and crime in the U.S.—we need to find better ways to talk about violence in neighboring countries, not only in terms of how it affects the U.S. in the form of immigration, but as an urgent reality that our domestic and foreign policies help create and sustain. Coulter points out, for example, that our national obsession with atrocities perpetrated by ISIS contrasts strikingly with our almost total silence on the massacres, mutilations, and bloody territorial battles being carried out by drug cartels (and, I would add, the police and security forces who are likewise active participants in the drug trade) in Mexico. “The American media’s fixation on monsters twelve hours and several connecting flights away from the United States, while ignoring the savage butchery occurring in a country within walking distance,” writes Coulter, “is so obvious that border fence advocates have taken to warning that Islamic terrorists might enter the United States through the wide-open Mexican border.” Conservatives pay a lot of attention to the escalating violence in Mexico: they fear it, they are fascinated by it, it features heavily in their arguments for why immigrants are bound to be dangerous. Breitbart Texas daily publishes gory on-the-ground reporting from “citizen journalists” who would otherwise likely face torture or assassination if they attempted to run their stories in the Mexican press. (A record number of Mexican journalists have been murdered over the past twelve months.) Meanwhile, I don’t see the New York Times scrambling to provide front-page billing for their beleaguered colleagues in Guerrero or Tamaulipas. A lot of left-leaning people I speak to don’t even really know that anything especially bad is happening in Mexico right now, or in Central America either. These stories don’t feature prominently in mainstream media, despite their shock value, probably because the left has no fixed policy positions on the matter—unlike the right, for whom it serves as fodder for their anti-immigration, pro-security positions.
We need more insistent voices in journalism and politics explaining how U.S. policies actively contribute to the terrifying upswells of violence we are now seeing in neighboring countries. For Coulter, the explanation for the violence in Mexico and Central America is simple: these are backwards, uncivilized “peasant societies” who cannot govern themselves without killing each other. This explanation requires us to ignore the fact that it is our country’s insatiable appetite for illicit drugs—coupled with our domestic drug policy, and our lavish dispensations of weapons, training, and cash for anti-narcotics operations in Mexico—that has created the violence we are currently seeing. Our policies have caused the market price of drugs to skyrocket, sparking massive cartel wars and incentivizing Mexican security forces to actively participate in the drug trade, at the expense of civilian lives. As opioid deaths have climbed in the U.S., so too have forced disappearances and horrific acts of violence against Mexican children, journalists, students, civilian bystanders, and refugees in transit. Meanwhile, our political, financial, and logistical support for brutal regimes in Central America’s Northern Triangle, our shoddy reception of refugees fleeing state violence, and our mass deportation policies have destabilized the region almost to the point of collapse. This is no “peasant” violence, whatever the hell that means: this carnage is the direct product of our country’s ruthless pursuit of self-interest and sociopathic indifference to consequences.
At the moment, the right is more interested in what is happening in neighboring countries than many people on the left, and the chief lesson that the right has drawn from these catastrophes of human suffering is that we should simply build a wall and let all these people die. The left needs to step up. The crises that are driving much of the migration on the southern border are so severe that they dwarf most of our own national problems. We should be talking about this violence more than the right, because we should care about it more than the right. We should be advocating louder and louder for the changes we need to make to our own drug, security, immigration, and economic policies to alter the incentives and reduce the firepower of this violence. We need to stay abreast of popular right-wing arguments on these subjects, not as amusing objects of curiosity, but as narratives that must be proactively countered: with data, yes, but also with narratives, with emotional appeals, with policy proposals that clearly demonstrate that ours is not a party (or a movement, or a political philosophy) beholden to elite interests.
It’s Ann Coulter’s world now: we are just living in it. We must do everything we can to fight back.
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