Fox Uses Dubious Stats to Demonize Undocumented Immigrants

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."