Playing the blame game

As the senior writer at the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington, D.C., I acquired an intimate knowledge of the principle that you never blame the victim of a crime. Despite the occasional rulings of rogue judges and the bizarre utterances of lawmakers and candidates emboldened by what they hear on talk radio or see on cable TV, it’s pretty much accepted in public discourse that a woman is not to blame for her rape because her skirt was too short or she had too much to drink.

Similarly, a victim of domestic abuse is not to blame for reuniting with a violent partner (although that takes a moment to explain). A homeowner is not to blame for a theft because an alarm hadn’t been installed. A robbery victim isn’t to blame because the street was dark. The perpetrator is held to account for these crimes, not the victim.

The news media on Saturday reported that the Trump administration has directed the creation of tent cities on military bases to house the 100,000 migrants it has already arrested and expects to arrest at the southern border. Many of these migrants, fleeing violence at home, have used established procedures to request asylum but have been arrested instead.

President Trump has publicly called these people “animals,” saying, in effect, that they are subhuman. Talk about blaming the victim.

In some of his most ugly remarks, the president, in a televised White House ceremony, presented the so-called “Angel Families,” the loved ones of Americans killed by undocumented residents, fully intending to amplify his contention that all migrants are dangerous criminals in waiting. In blaming the migrants, he has made his followers the victims.

The Angel Families’ stories are heartbreaking, but ABC News has reported that the president, in his remarks to the families, cited suspect figures extracted from a flawed 2011 government report on crime rates involving migrants and used the figures to concoct his own statistics.

He has done so repeatedly, blaming the migrants for crimes they have never committed. In November 2016, the Washington Post reported that the figures were “misleading and lack context.” In addition, a University of Wisconsin study by criminologist Michael Light, who analyzed figures from 1990 to 2014, found that “undocumented immigration does not increase violence.”

Rather, crime decreased when the number of immigrants was factored in.

Now, thousands of migrants have been arrested, with many children having been separated from their families. No one is betting that the administration will be able to meet the deadlines set by a federal judge on Tuesday to reunite the children with their parents. The president’s executive order a day earlier did nothing for those already seized and promises only to keep together families in the future, not to stop arresting them.

Nor does it end the current rote trials that are dooming thousands of the migrants to summary deportation. The president has also called for the complete elimination of judicial processes for the migrants.

It is not hyperbole to say, much as we may be reluctant to do so, that history is repeating itself, albeit on a smaller scale than in World War II Europe when Jews and other minorities were deported to concentration camps. Now it is the Spanish-speaking children already separated from their parents who are being loaded onto planes or being spirited away in vans in the dead of night to camps and shelters whose locations are often kept secret from civic officials. Other facilities, whose locations are known, are closed to not just the press, but, often, to lawmakers.

We should have seen this coming. In his first TV interview after being elected, on “60 Minutes” on Nov. 13, 2016, President Trump said he would “immediately” deport “2 million—it could even be 3 million”—undocumented residents. “We are getting them out of the country,” he said, or “incarcerate them.” He said nothing of due process.

These migrants are the victims of what could best be described as frontier justice. Blaming them for their plight—demonizing them—serves only to normalize the xenophobia the president is fomenting for his own partisan purposes.

Martin W.G. King often writes commentaries on social issues, including homelessness and capital punishment.

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