The United States' biggest opponent of fake news may be creating some of his own.
After a successful campaign centered around vows to crack down on illegal immigration and crime, President Donald Trump spent his first few weeks in the Oval Office shining a harsh spotlight on the issue. He released executive orders restricting travel from several Muslim-majority nations in an effort to root out what he calls "radical Islamic terrorism," ordered the construction of a $20 billion wall across the U.S.-Mexico border and even invited the family members of victims of violence committed by undocumented immigrants to his first major speech before Congress.
"We are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens," Trump said in his congressional address. "Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised."
That night, Trump cemented immigrant crime rates as one of his administration's priorities, announcing the creation of a new federal office called VOICE, which stands for Victims of Immigration Crime Enforcement. The office will release weekly public reports documenting every crime committed by immigrants across the country, as well as provide resources and assistance to families impacted by such crimes.
The crowd applauded, but in this era of alternative facts, Americans are learning to question everything.
Are crimes committed by immigrants as prevalent and dire as the president says they are? Is there data proving there's been a surge in crime across immigrant communities in the U.S.?
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the most conservative, anti-illegal immigration think tanks in Washington, D.C., the concern isn’t immigrant crime rates but instead how to quickly deport immigrants Trump's White House now considers removable before they become an issue on U.S. soil.
"Every law enforcement agency would like to eliminate a certain problem or person from the community, rather than constantly recycle them through the justice system," Jessica Vaughan, the center's policy director, told International Business Times in an interview earlier this month. "How do we handle those cases in which a person who commits a crime happens to be someone who is removable? How do we best assure that that person gets removed from the country, rather than get released back into the community?"
Decades of research and virtually all signs seem to indicate immigrants commit far less crime than native-born Americans.
A variety of studies dating back to the 1980s, including reports from the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the National Bureau of Economic Research, show immigrant crime rates have recently been on the decline. While the rate of foreign-born immigrants in the total national population grew from 7.9 percent in 1990 to 13.1 percent in 2013, violent crime rates dropped 48 percent, according to FBI data released that year.
Moreover, only 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18 to 39 years old are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of their American male counterparts, according to a 2015 study published by the CATO Institute, a libertarian policy group based in Washington, D.C.
Immigrants could actually be prone to less crime because the demographic is almost universally motivated by a few common goals, according to Juliet Stumpf, a law expert and professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. She said immigrants may be focused on making money to send to family members in other countries, earning an education for a better life and establishing a home in a safer place for their children.
Stumpf, who has explored the relationship between crime and immigration for decades, coined the term “crimmigration” to describe the emerging field of study.
"What we’re engaged in right now with the Trump administration is this huge experiment, using the criminal justice system to govern immigration. We’ve never really done that before," Stumpf told IBT. "It’s going to become a huge experiment in mass detention and mass deportation of a largely Latino population. That’s not been who America is historically."
Amid this uncertainty, activists and experts like Stumpf said they worried Trump's ability to influence the national conversation could divert attention from other matters, like the potential human rights crisis along the southern border that could worsen under the White House's proposed immigration agenda and the recent uptick in anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes against Muslims.
"My concern is that, given the data we have that shows immigrants have lower crime rates, the office may actually skew public perception about immigrant crime rates," Stumpf said. "And make people believe that immigrants are much more prone to committing crime than is actually true."