The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Fox Uses Dubious Stats to Demonize Undocumented Immigrants

By Sonia Scherr on May 6, 2010 - 2:44 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Fox News made the alarming claim this morning that 2,158 Americans are murdered every year by undocumented immigrants.

Problem is, it’s almost certainly wrong.

In response to our request for comment, a Fox News spokeswoman said she would look into precisely where that number came from. (We will update this post when we hear from her.) However, the show cited as its source “FSM” which appears to be shorthand for Family Security Matters, a website that frequently publishes breathless “exclusives” such as the one about Latinos titled, “Illegal Aliens Bring A Taliban Culture to the United States.”

As we reported in the fall 2008 Intelligence report, FSM promoted the 2,158 figure in a February 2007 article titled “Illegal Aliens Kill More Americans than Iraq War.” The FSM article attributes its data to a story on the far-right WorldNetDaily website, which in turn cites Human Events contributor Mac Johnson. In 2005, Johnson claimed — based, absurdly, on murder rates in immigrants’ home countries — that undocumented immigrants kill 1,806 to 2,510 people every year. Applying that claim to the FBI’s most recent murder total (16,272 in 2008) would mean that the undocumented, who number about 12 million people, or 4% of the U.S. population, are responsible for 11.1% to 15.4% of U.S. murders. In other words, Johnson is saying that undocumented immigrants murder U.S. citizens at a rate nearly three to four times that of the general population.

Fox apparently relied on that dubious research during its morning show, Fox & Friends. As host Gretchen Carlson interviewed a guest about the new Arizona law targeting undocumented immigrants, the words “2,158 killed by illegals every year” appeared repeatedly on the screen. The guest, 9/11 Families for a Secure America Board Member Ed Kowalski, also told Carlson on camera that undocumented immigrants murder an estimated 2,200 Americans annually.

Kowalski’s niece, 17-year-old Elizabeth Butler, was murdered by an undocumented immigrant in 2005 — and we do not mean to diminish his grief or the problem of violent crime. However, his implication that the new Arizona law will make the state safer does not seem to be supported by the data. Even with relatively large numbers of undocumented immigrants, the rates of both violent crimes and property crimes in Arizona have been falling since 2002, according to the Immigration Policy Center. A 2008 report from the conservative Americas Majority Foundation found that, in recent years, crime declined the most in states with the biggest immigration growth, including Arizona.

At a news conference last week, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris disputed the claim that the new law will help police do their jobs. “Proponents of this legislation have repeatedly said that the new law provides a tool for law enforcement,” he said on April 30. “But I don’t really believe that that’s true or accurate.” He concluded:  “It takes officers away from doing what our main core mission of local law enforcement is, and that’s to make our communities safe and enforce our criminal codes in that effort.”

  • ruben

    beholder…i totally agree with you…arizona has started a campaign of ETHNIC CLEANSING!!…plain and simple! and with the blessing of the government that has been infiltrated by hard core neo-nazi and white supremacist groups.but you will never here this on fox news instead they will bring in leaders of these far right extremist groups and give them air time too promote there disgusting propaganda…..hypocrite fox news is always preaching that muslim imams use there pulpit in there mosques to spread there hateful right wing extremist propaganda well guess what fox news!…..when you give the white right extremists air time to spread there hate and lies you are doing the same is no longer a viable news source they are in bed with the far right lunatic fringe groups in this country and will do what ever it takes to promote there distorted views.i absolutely believe in free speech as the constitution states, but when you use freedom of speech to advocate hate to the point of instigating violence targeting any group of people for any reason that crosses the line.

  • beholder

    I think we need to revist the recent SPLC post on the whitewatch site, which collects the crimes and idiosyncrasies of white people in exactly the same way that anti-immigrant sites collect headlines on crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants. The fallacy (i.e. yes whites or immigrants commit crimes, but so do lots of other people) is called “an appeal to what’s known”, or in other words taking facts in isolation to substantiate a false argument.

    Why is it necessary to put in a headline that an illegal immigrant commits such and such crime? While descriptive, we don’t for example, say “blonde teacher abuses high school student”, or “bald motorcyclist leads cops on interstate chase” because these facts are essentially not relevant to the news. They may be interesting, they may provide context or color, but if they are not there, they will not affect the ultimate telling of the story, and certainly will not enhance the quality of the headline or news article.

    There was a time in our country when we had news saying “Black man kills white woman” or some such, but we’ve gotten to a point where that no longer has much social relevance. Certainly some people would appreciate headlines like that, but probably not most people.

    So why then when a crash, crime, or dispute occurs involving an unauthorized immigrant, and it is not an immigration crime, do we need to put that in the headline? Why does that become the most important aspect of the story?

    Do we say “German born financial advisor arrested for tax fraud” in the headline, or do we see it somewhere way down in the article, if his birthplace has nothing to do with the crime? For that matter do we even need it at all to understand the basic facts? Should we conclude that all German born financial advisors are not to be trusted or should be audited?

    Of course there is an answer to why many headlines cite visa status.

    The superficial answer is that they shouldn’t be here, and therefore if the federal government was more vigliant, then the crime would not have occurred (at least on our soil). For those who believe all undocumented immigrants are criminals, the inclusion of visa status in a news item substantiates the belief.

    But the real issue is two-fold.

    First, most importantly, immigrants (unauthorized or not) commit statistically fewer crimes per capita than native born people. That’s been shown by an empirical test of police and prison records with Census records and estimates on undocumented populations (mind you, if we believe some who claim there are 20 million or 30 million undocumented immigrants, and not 11 million as appears most likely, then the crime rate per capita tumbles to even lower levels).

    Secondly, there are huge gaps in the factual arguments of those who argue for tighter restrictions and harsher penalties for immigration violations. Typically, these arguments are highly emotional and intransigent, without a clear understanding of the whole picture.

    So, there is a voracious appetite by many Americans for news that substantiates their opinions, since they have completely closed themselves off to any empirical evidence that conflicts with those opinions. Putting “illegal” in the headline scratches that itch, and allows the nativist to say, “see I told you so” without ever addressing the fact that immigrants commit fewer crimes.

    So why doesn’t anyone care about the crimes commited by Americans? Why is the use of hospitals by aliens more important than the ten times higher cost of medicare fraud by hospitals seeking to cheat the American public?

    That’s where the rubber meets the road.

  • beholder

    People can be racist without realizing it. But it makes them no less racist.

  • Amy Shaw

    In doing some research today for a public broadcasting project on immigration, I came across another one of these “startling” erroneous statistics:

    “Illegal immigration is tearing America apart and leading to the death of 12-25 Americans per day from the criminal acts of illegals. That is over 4,000 killed per year.”

    The post was about boycotting banks who support illegal immigrants–support meaning allowing them to open bank accounts and get credit cards.

  • Peter Blaise

    Earlier, “beholder” wrote: “… soft-core racists do the work of the hard core …”

    soft core racists = invisibles, such as racists in suits?

    hard core racists = clearly and demonstratively visible, such as skin heads with swastikas and Nazi uniforms?

    I know it’s way more complex than that, but I get the point.

    It’s like when the Governor of Arizona says she herself can’t identify undocumented immigrants on the street just by looking, but there are people out there who can, so the Governor is fully supportive of the unconstitutional law?

    And so on: news commentators in suits, politicians in suits … just because they dress well and appear to behave socially, we must listen carefully to their words, scruitinize their actions, read and research deeply to find the racist underpinnings of all these distrating attacks on … on anyone: immigrants, gays, people of color, the poor, religious outsiders, street people, unemployed, day laborers.

    Fear manifests itself in many bad laws and hurtful practices.

    So, search Google News and Yahoo Buzz and Politics/Political Blogs other places and join at least ONE dialog someplace, and try to know what’s happening, participate, and offer your own insightful contributions WITH LINKS — do a search at:

    … for many of these issues and it reveals tons of authoratative, referential links to share!

    Love and hugs,
    Peter Blaise dot com

  • beholder

    Peter Blaise,

    Worthy considerations all.

    However I find that the laws in Arizona are intended to achieve “ethnic cleansing” and to squelch all discussion that might accelerate the declining prestige of the Anglo.

    This is so because those who claim not to be racists eagerly welcome the support and alliance of those who are racists. Thus, the soft-core racists do the work of the hard core.

    Cordiality in such circumstances reeks of moral cowardice. We need to push back hard.

  • ruben

    that’s why i don’t watch fixed… i mean fox news any more.they cater to the far right lunatic fringe and are just another link in the chain of slander and bogus sources lies.

  • Peter Blaise

    Neo-Nazi white-supramicist marketing has been slick! See:

    It’s critical that we spread out to the general dialog on the Internet and not just convene here. I suggest browsing Google News and other sources for these issues and then joining any dialog available to challenge the fear and idiocy out there:

    … is as good a place as any to start.

    Then join and subscribe to any dialog available, and send feedback to stories to keep a thoughtful, well researched, humanitarian, civil, tolerant, American mindset front and center throughout the public presentation and discussion of these issues.

    See also:

    … and so on — Google search for [blog “specific broadcaster or newspaper”], and I found these other busy locations:;go=Go

    I’m out there every day trying to expand the discourse by adding my questions, my voice. Some dialogs go on for dozens of challenges back and forth. There is a great opportunity for us to participate and bring some challenging and provocative balance to the incindiary rhetoric going on out there. Dive in, have some fun, learn something, share what you know, and make a difference.

    Love and hugs,
    Peter Blaise dot com

  • Tezuka fan

    I hate math, failed statistics, and don’t feel like fact-checking what some people would consider important information. I could get a job at Fox News!

    Actually, my mom once told me that there are two careers I should never have (preface with a “you can do anything you set your mind to” thing): a criminal or a politician. Would working at Fox News involve either of these?

  • Frank Montalvo

    Sorry, I am not good at figures, but what then is the crime rate among adult illegal immigrants? Is there a difference between male and female illegal immigrants? How many are done by drug and human traffickers, aside from workers in the US? Seems these figures would help define “the problem.” Thanks.

  • Don Quixote

    But the report says it was assuming the perpetrators are all males. Since male unauthorized immigrants only constitute 2.1% of the U.S. population, they would have to commit murders at a proportion that is 7 times the murder rate of the rest of the population.

    According to the Bureau of Justice, the violent crime rate nationwide in 2008 was 455 per 100,000 people. Arizona’s was 447, a bit below average. Arizona has the lowest violent crime rate of all four states bordering Mexico, which, taken as a group have a violent crime rate of 527.

    If the FSM report were true, we would see much higher rates of violent crime in the states with the highest unauthorized immigration populations, right? However, the 10 states with the highest unauthorized immigrant populations have a violent crime rate of 460, more or less the same as the national average.

    What’s really interesting is that the 8 states that constitute what we call the “South”, which don’t border Mexico, have a violent crime rate of 565, which is higher than the 4 border states, the 10 states with the most unauthorized immigrants and Arizona. Nationwide, Arizona ranks #21 in violent crime, and as this article mentions, the trend over the past several years, including the peak unauthorized immigration years, has been declining.

    Conclusion? The FSM report is absurd on its face, and is just another example of the “Big Lie” propaganda that is used to demonize and dehumanize certain groups of people, so that we can all feel warm and cozy as we watch our governments round them up like dogs.

  • Warren D.

    It seems that lies and stupidity are the major movers in America today. Way to go Foxy-loxy, your news department deserves the Fruitcake Prize for pure unadulterated moronity.

  • beholder

    As soon as you start point out that white men are molest so many children each year, then you start to see that statistics can be carved out to make any kind of point you want. The problem is that Fox News is so superficial, the key takeaway is immigration equates to murder. In fact, the Western European rituals of bloodshed, war and violence — combined with the willy nilly trade in handguns — are much more likely to explain our national violence issues than any given ethnicity.

    Americans need to have better critical thinking skills, and Fox News needs to be more responsible in its reporting. Americans stopped thinking for themselves as soon as television began to supplant public debate.

    Americans are junkies for misinformation and Fox scratches the itch.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    I used to live in Arizona; I totally remember the “Taliban” culture the immigrants brought. You couldn’t walk through a Home Depot parking lot without getting shot at unless your beard was sufficiently long, and your turban was tied just right.

  • Snorlax

    Unless there’s an “illegal alien” category in the crime data for murders, which I don’t remember there being one, then I seriously doubt this number. Even if it sounds official because it isn’t rounded off. 8^)

    But what do you expect from FOX “News”, the official news channel of the Teabagger Party and their wacko pals.

    Did you know that the suicide rate in the US is TWICE the murder rate?

    And the cops only solve HALF the murders in the US?

    And there are one or two serial killers out stalking victims right now as you’re reading this?

    Creepy stuff. I usually try not to think about these things.