Earlier this month, Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA equated those living in the United States without authorization to violent offenders. Jenks’ comments reflect the ongoing efforts of the organized nativist movement to criminalize an entire communities of immigrants.
Jenks, who is the group’s director of government relations, appeared alongside other anti-immigrant activists on an “uninvited” panel that ran concurrent with CPAC and was hosted by Breitbart News. She used her allotted time to claim that lawlessness will arise as a result of passing comprehensive immigration reform. During her segment, Jenks perpetuated an all-too-familiar talking point of conflating unauthorized presence in the U.S. to violent criminality.
“If you rob a bank, you’re going to jail. Break into a house, you’re going to jail. Shoot someone, you’re going to jail, and everybody’s guns will be taken away,” she said. “But if you break an immigration law, we’re going to let you stay, give you a work permit, and we’re going to call it a day.”
Jenks’ logic refuses to take into account the complicated factors of immigration and instead categorizes all unlawful citizens as being violent criminals. An estimated 40 percent of undocumented citizens in the county are said to have entered legally and simply overstayed their visas. (Many are reported to be high-skilled workers who just never left, according to the Wall Street Journal.) Framing this as an affront to the “rule of law” is just one of many tactics that reinforces a stereotype that conflates immigration and criminality.
In order to begin to refute Jenks’ claims, it should be noted that immigration violations and criminal violations are not even processed through the same legal channels.
Immigration court is a separate entity from criminal court, which Jenks doesn’t bother to acknowledge. Because of this, those turned over to this type of court do not have the same rights as they would in criminal court. Immigration court does not have a jury, and the judges — appointed by the Department of Justice and not subject to public approval or popular vote — are the only representation. Immigration court is also routinely criticized for its inconsistent rulings and lack of transparency. Many of these courts operate out of detention centers, often making them inaccessible to the public as well as attorneys.
Jenks’ comments reflect longstanding efforts by the anti-immigrant movement to criminalize foreigners. She and her cohort continue to use this rhetoric to justify restricting immigration. Listed below are examples of the movement using this talking point to further their agenda:
- After the murder of Louise Sollowin, 93, last July, Susan Tully of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) said she hoped the immigration status of the convicted murderer would become the “poster child of both the DREAM Act and amnesty.”
- In 2008, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughn claimed the Temporary Protection Status for refugees resulted in “the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States.”
- In August of last year, nativist congressional ally, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), alleged the majority of undocumented immigrants are drug smugglers with “calves-the side size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
- CIS released a misleading report in 2008 presenting immigrants — primarily Latino immigrants — as the source of gang activity.
- Following the Boston Marathon bombing, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Vice Chairman of the House Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, drew a connection between the immigration status of the suspects to who is potentially coming into the country via the Southern border.
The ongoing effort of figureheads such as Jenks to compare undocumented immigrants with violent criminals is just another transparent attempt to further their nativist agenda. Their continual need to employ racist stereotypes demonstrates why they should have no say in this discussion.