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Nativist Feted by Trump Wildly Exaggerates Immigrant Threat

The woman whose Remembrance Project benefited from a Houston fundraiser addressed by Donald Trump on Saturday is an extremist who wildly exaggerates the number of people killed by undocumented immigrants in America.

Maria Espinoza is the co-founder and national director of the anti-immigrant Remembrance Project that seeks to highlight such deaths, which are indisputably tragic. But Espinoza, whose group raised $125 to $500 a plate at the luncheon, takes that reality and spins it to suggest that immigrants without papers kill native-born Americans at astounding rates — a claim that is utterly false. 

Maria Espinoza, co-founder of and National Director of the Remembrance Project
Maria Espinoza, co-founder of and National Director of the Remembrance Project

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Social Contract, a racist journal that stridently opposes immigration, Espinoza claimed that an estimated “25 Americans or legal residents die each day at the hands of illegal aliens.” Her source, remarkably enough, was U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a hardline immigrant-basher who has claimed on his website since 2006 that “murderous illegal aliens” kill 12 U.S. citizens every day, while another 13 a day are left dead by “uninsured drunk driving illegals.”

Let’s take a look at those numbers.

In 2014, the latest year for which we have statistics, the FBI reported that there were 14,249 murders in the United States. That works out to 39 per day. During the same year, the population of the United States was about 317 million, while the number of undocumented people was 11.3 million, the Pew Research Center reported.

That means, if King and Espinoza are to be believed, that about 3.5% of the population (undocumented immigrants) was responsible for 31% of the murders — almost 10 times the expected rate. (There is no information available on the number of Americans killed by drunk drivers, so that figure cannot be evaluated.) Espinoza also may have meant that 25 Americans are murdered every day (as opposed to 12 murdered and 13 killed by drunk drivers), which would mean that 3.5% of the population was responsible for 64% of the murders in the United States.

It’s not only that these claims are wildly improbable. Studies have shown repeatedly that immigrants to the United States are far less criminal than native Americans, meaning their murder rate is almost certainly lower than expected.

King, the congressman who has stood by his spurious claims for a decade now, has said that he “extrapolated” his figures from a 2005 Government Accountability Office study. The GAO study was based on a tiny sample. No government or private body keeps a count of the number of people killed by undocumented immigrants.

Espinoza’s bogus murder accusation isn’t her only link to anti-immigrant extremism. As Hatewatch has documented before, Espinoza has written for extremist publications, hobnobbed with racist organizers, and even asserted that “[c]hild molestation and rape are very numerous in this illegal alien demographic!”

There is no question that American citizens have been killed or made the victims of other kinds of crimes at the hands of undocumented immigrants in this country. Like all crimes, these attacks are tragic, tearing apart families and communities and leaving horror in their wake. But exaggerating the threat posed by a body of people who are actually less violent than average helps no one. Instead, it merely paints a target on the backs of people who, by and large, are here only to earn a living.

Maria Espinoza — and Steve King — should be ashamed.

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