Trump administration cites questionable data on immigration and violence against women

Trump denies 'shithole' comment but Illinois senator confirms the remarks

President Donald Trump denied in a tweet on Thursday that he asked during a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded to the tweet on
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President Donald Trump denied in a tweet on Thursday that he asked during a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded to the tweet on

President Donald Trump has long said that illegal immigration makes the United States less safe. And the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they published figures on “terrorism-related offenses” by immigrants Tuesday to “enhance the security of the American people.”

But many of the statistics already have been called out as misleading for several reasons, including that the DOJ included as immigrants people who were extradited to the U.S. for trial.

And the same is true, it turns out, for a separate section of the release on gender-based violence against women, “including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.”

The release said there are an average of 23 to 27 honor killings committed in the U.S. every year, citing a 2014 study. The study didn’t attribute those murders to immigrants, though killings by families seeking to maintain or restore their reputations after a family member’s actions (or reported actions) have disgraced them are considered acceptable in some nations.

But the study doesn’t say that the number of such murders is on the rise. And Tuesday’s release doesn’t note that very few Americans are endangered by such violence; in the overwhelming majority of cases, the victims are members of the same immigrant families that perpetrate the crimes.

Archi Pyati, chief of policy for Tahirih, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant women, said she questioned the motivations for including honor killings in the release.

“They’re not trying to solve the problem of violence against women,” Pyati said. “They’re trying to justify restricting immigration policies.”

Research says that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in the U.S. than native-born citizens, but there is research that shows female immigrants tend to be more vulnerable to crimes. Trump’s rhetoric, executive orders and increased activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have helped make those victims increasingly fearful of coming forward, Pyati said.

Pyati pointed to then-DHS Secretary John Kelly testifying last April that ICE authorities were free to arrest victims or witnesses to crimes, even if they had no “serious criminal background.”

“To arrest survivors and then say you want to help them out [from] the other side of your mouth – it’s hypocritical,” she said.

The release also says women in the U.S. at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) had increased threefold between 1990 and 2012, to 513,000, saying the increase is “entirely a result of the rapid growth in the number of immigrants from FGM-practicing countries.”

That’s true – because country of origin is one of two factors used in calculating those who are at-risk, according to the 2016 CDC study cited by the DOJ-DHS release. CDC’s analysis took the number of first- and second-generation women and girls that arrived from countries where the practice is still prevalent, such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia, and calculated the percentage of those immigrants who might undergo the procedure if they had remained in those countries. The study does not say the practice actually has increased in the U.S. (and no study exists to confirm or deny this), but that the number of potential victims welcomed into the U.S. has increased.

In fact, it says one limitation of the study is that women probably face reduced risk upon migration to the U.S.

Shelby Quast, director of Equality Now’s Americas office, said many women come to the U.S. seeking asylum because of FGM in their home countries. Under the CDC study’s parameters, granting those women asylum would mean an increase in the number of women at risk in the U.S., even though in reality it means fewer victims worldwide.

“We’re finally getting some momentum around the global efforts to end this practice,” Quast said, citing a D.C. summit on the topic in 2016, a U.S. law closing a loophole used to commit FGM passed in 2015 and increased discussions with government actors. “This is not the focus here. It’s not helpful.”

Asked to comment on the critiques of its data, an administration official — who would not be identified even by agency — did not respond to criticisms and said the numbers were being used to support immigration priorities.

“The inclusion of this data serves as a function to support the administration’s immigration policy, including merit-based immigration that would prioritize job skills, English language proficiency or fluency, education, and interest in and commitment to those American values,” the official said.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071, @kateirby

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