Dear Representatives and Senators,
Having read State Representative Chris Herrod’s email accusing Sutherland Institute of spreading “misinformation” through our recent report titled Just The Facts,
we feel a reasoned response is in order. We appreciate Representative Herrod’s diligence and passionate arguments. We also appreciate the general spirit of open dialogue that exists among state legislators. Our intent is not to be contentious but to clarify.
As background, our Just the Facts report was a follow-up to a study we presented to the Immigration Interim Committee in 2008 citing, among other things, current state prison-inmate data. At that time, some supporters of SB 81 countered our findings by arguing that better data on illegal-immigrant inmates would be found in the county jail system. Sutherland took them at their word and investigated the claim.
What we discovered was reported in Just the Facts. Not to their liking, opponents then argued, as Representative Herrod has in his memo, that the better data is actually “arrest data” (i.e., the idea that the court system keeps many undocumented immigrants out of state prison). The Sutherland staff is not new to this game. We have no doubt about the insistence of some proponents of SB 81 that endless and distant data sources would one day “prove” that, indeed, Utah is awash in a sea of brown criminals intent on subverting everything godly and virtuous. Even so, this game only proves boring.
Representative Herrod’s criticism fails to grasp the point of Just the Facts. For this study, Sutherland asked a simple question: does broad data from county jails justify the claim that many, if not most, undocumented immigrants are criminals? Based on the study, the answer is a quantifiable no. Only 3.9% of inmates in Utah’s county jails are known to be undocumented. In other words, Representative Herrod’s point about a jail’s “state contract status” is irrelevant. The simple fact is that only a small portion of criminals sitting in county jails are known to be undocumented.
Hypothetical arguments about unknown numbers of undocumented immigrants in Utah’s county jails are similarly irrelevant and have little informative value in a fact-based dialogue. Representative Herrod’s defense of data on ethnicity and arrests are cases in point.
Ethnicity data cannot reasonably be used to say anything useful about the crimes of undocumented immigrants for one simple fact: the vast majority of Hispanics living in Utah are not undocumented. Using data on Hispanic ethnicity to comment on the crime rate of undocumented immigrants is like using a data-marker of “Caucasian” to represent crimes committed by freckled red-heads. Further, in its most noxious form, it assumes that all Hispanics are undocumented, which is contrary to both fact and common sense.
This approach also undermines the usefulness of arrest data, which only identifies ethnicity. Put simply, we cannot in good conscience use arrest data to make claims about the crime rate among undocumented immigrants unless we first divorce ourselves from the facts. For these reasons, county-jail and state-prison data are the best available measures we have of undocumented-immigrant crime.
Representative Herrod questions our methodology. So how did we obtain data for several county jails, particularly Salt Lake and Utah Counties? Simple: we asked them. We contacted the county jails and they responded with the figures we reported. Several counties, such as Salt Lake, provided documentation by fax or email. Others, such as Utah County, reported them over the phone. In other words, we did not “arrive” at our figures, we simply reported them.
It is interesting that county jails are putting out monthly reports that supposedly contradict the figures in Just the Facts. However, since Representative Herrod failed to say what reports these are or how to obtain them, we can do little to respond to his sources. In any case, this particular criticism would be more constructively directed at county jails for supposedly producing contradictory information rather than at Sutherland for simply reporting what we were told officially.
Lastly, on a more sensitive point, Representative Herrod writes, “When will the elites realize that most Utahns are tired of being called racist, uncompassionate, or unchristian simply because they want the law enforced…?” All we can say is what we’ve already said. The easiest and most effective way to neutralize such attacks is to quit objectifying undocumented immigrants as “criminals” and start seeing them as you would see yourself. Quit generalizing and stereotyping them. Quit turning the equivalent of a traffic ticket into a felony. And, relevant to Representative Herrod’s memo, quit wresting facts and figures – exposing anyone who will listen to a sea of minutia and quasi-conspiracy theories – to fit a myopic and cynical view of the problem at hand.
After Sutherland released Just the Facts, the head of the Utah Minutemen called Sutherland a “liberal-biased” organization and went on to construct the conspiracy that we’ve taken our stand to serve the interests of big business and that all we want is a steady source of “cheap labor.” Seriously?
While we certainly respect Representative Herrod’s right to his own viewpoint, his criticisms of our work are without basis and merit. In Sutherland’s view, perpetuating such unreasonable arguments only encourages Utahns to turn to the emotion-driven, knee-jerk arguments which have negatively influenced public dialogue surrounding SB 81. We do not question Representative Herrod’s motives and believe, firmly, that one day he will see undocumented immigrants as he sees himself. On that day, especially because of Representative Herrod’s solid sense of integrity, Utah will begin to find real solutions – to make the best of a bad situation foist upon us by an inept federal government.