Instead of posting content aimed at lifting Americans up or even just highlighting events involving public officials, the Trump administration is now using the official White House Twitter account to sensationalize immigrant crime.
They’re doing so at a time when President Donald Trump is threatening to close the US-Mexico border — even as he acknowledges that doing so would be bad news for the American economy — and two days ahead of a trip to the border in which Trump is expected to celebrate the construction of new fencing.
Voters repudiated Trump’s fear-mongering about immigrants during last November’s midterm elections, but even with Democrats now controlling the House, Trump hasn’t given up on trying to convince Americans that undocumented immigration is a national emergency. During an Oval Office event on Tuesday, Trump urged Congress to pass legislation curtailing both legal and illegal immigration, going as far as saying “we have to get rid of judges” who preside over immigration hearings in order to allow for expedited deportations.
Then, on Wednesday, the White House retweeted crime stories from a CBS affiliate in Nashville about crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants.
It’s unusual for the White House to retweet random crime stories, and there appears to be no reason to share these two with the account’s 18.3 million followers beyond trying to demonize undocumented immigrants as criminals.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the White House account tweeted out a crime story and framed it as evidence that “sanctuary cities” are unsafe. (A 2013 study found an inverse relationship between immigration and crime at a neighborhood level.)
Jersey City designated itself as a sanctuary city in February 2017.https://t.co/7tVrhjJXki— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 3, 2019
To be clear, nobody argues that undocumented immigrants are perfect angels. Criminals will be found among any large group of people. But from a rational standpoint, there is no reason to be particularly afraid of immigrant crime.
As Vox has detailed, study after study indicates that immigrants — documented or otherwise — commit crimes at lesser rates than native-born Americans. But instead of engaging with that reality, the Trump administration obfuscates the issue by highlighting out-of-context raw crime numbers and sensationalizing specific criminal acts — even if they’re only figments of Trump’s imagination, as seems to be the case with tales of kidnapping he regularly tells during his speeches.
Trump offers disturbing, evidence-free descriptions of kidnapping & sex trafficking.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 12, 2019
"You have 3 women tied up in the backseat of a car you're not going through, folks, a port of entry, where they do look in the backseat at least, right?" pic.twitter.com/Wybb4ArSka
These retweets are symptomatic of a broader problem with Trump’s reasoning
Trump’s irrationality when it comes to crime has a flip side. While the president has been quick to politicize acts of violence committed by immigrants or Muslims, he has consistently downplayed the problem posed by white nationalism, despite a wealth of studies showing that right-wing extremism is a serious and rising threat.
After a white nationalist who praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” murdered 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand last month, Trump responded to it by downplaying violent white nationalism, saying it’s just “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” On the other hand, the president seems to regard individual crimes as evidence that immigrants in general are dangerous.
In that way, the White House’s decision to sensationalize immigrant crime reflects a broader shortcoming with Trump’s reasoning. For example, though science indicates global warming is occurring, Trump touts cold snaps as evidence the science is wrong. And even though data indicates immigration is a net positive, Trump touts individual crime stories as evidence that curtailing immigration would be a good thing.