Bad hombres?

On the campaign trail and in the White House, President Trump has promoted harsh immigration policies by rhetorically criminalizing whole communities of people.


Bad hombres? is part of the Southern Poverty Law Center's No End in Sight report. Read the full report.


He has smeared them as criminals, rapists and “bad hombres.” During a 2017 rally, he warned of Latino gangs that target “young, beautiful” girls and “slice them and dice them with a knife.” 

In 2018, he referred to some undocumented immigrants as “animals,” a term he said was directed at members of the transnational gang MS-13. The word would later be used 10 times in a White House press release.

Despite the administration’s claim that the term was directed at gang members, it was another instance of the president demonizing immigrants by using dehumanizing language and telling racist, fear mongering tales that don’t reflect reality.

ICE claims “the vast majority” of its arrests in FY 2017 were of “convicted criminals or aliens with criminal charges.”5 Yet, according to ICE’s own figures, more than one-third (34 percent) of the people deported between February and October 2017 had no criminal convictions. Another 10 percent had been convicted of driving while intoxicated or for simple traffic offenses. And 15 percent were convicted of the immigration crimes of illegal entry or re-entry – not for any conduct after entering the country. 

Criminal grounds for deportation represent a small share of all charges leveled in immigration court. A look at the new deportation proceedings filed in the first eight months of FY 2018 shows more than 41 percent of charges were entering the United States without travel documents. Another 46 percent were some “other immigration charge,” not a crime-based charge.

The “bad hombres” rhetoric is a Trump fallacy. In reality, the system deports many with no crimes and unfairly criminalizes others. Everyone deserves due process.

But it’s not just Trump’s smears that raise concerns. The administration’s penchant to fill key immigration posts with staffers from organizations designated as nativist hate groups by the SPLC only heightens concerns about the fair treatment of detained migrants.

As this report went to press, Trump had nominated Ronald Mortensen as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. At that time, he was a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigrant hate group that is part of a network founded by white nationalist John Tanton. CIS produces shoddy research that demonizes immigrants with falsehoods. Mortensen, as the SPLC has noted, played a role in exaggerating a link between immigration and crime.

Other former hate group staffers include Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Kirchner was named ombudsman for the Citizenship and Immigration Services branch of the Department of Homeland Security in May 2017.

Robert Law, a senior policy adviser to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, previously worked as lobbying director for FAIR. And, Jon Feere, a longtime staffer with CIS, joined the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement as senior adviser.