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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sutherland Institute Response to Rep. Herrod

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.

[Previous posts on this topic: Rep. Herrod's E-mail to state legislators, Salt Lake City's Statement, and Rep. Herrod's response.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame is Chris Herrod to our state. I'm a Provo resident, and I will certainly won't be voting for him again. I'll make sure my neighbors know what class of individual we have as our representative.

7/15/2009 7:32 PM  
Blogger Bryan Kingsford said...

I find your response very intelligent and well written. Thanks for your efforts.

7/16/2009 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the report! Another reason why not to believe everything politicians say...

7/16/2009 2:00 PM  
Anonymous UIRIC said...

Finally the Facts! Thank you for addressing such a pressing issue!

7/16/2009 2:14 PM  
Blogger Juan said...

This logical, well-articulated response further establishes the transparency in Southerland's study, the solidity and high level of the institution and the quality and integrity of its leadership.
I live in Lehi and as President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce I deal daily with incredible, hard-working, patriotic, fiscally responsible Hispanic business owners whose only fault is to have wanted to seek financial freedom in the USA and make a decent life. And seeing them labeled as unwanted criminals saddens me.
But my hope is for Southerland's final words to become real and maybe Rep. Herrod starts to listen to his constituency and uses his solid sense of integrity to built our state's economy and influence by embracing diversity and dismissing discrimination, segregation and racism.
Our state has a long history of fleeing intolerance and persecution; a reputation of being full of loving and compassionate people; a legacy of progress based on cultural diversity, hard work and tolerance. How did we get dragged to belong to the small infamous group of states that has sponsored segregationist and harassing legislation such as SB81?

7/16/2009 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised Mero played the race card. It's a great way to put someone on the defensive even if it's not accurate.

However, Mero did not address Herrod's point about ethnicity. Herrod accurately states that Hispanics have a higher crime rate than whites. This is not disputable. If Mero's argument that illegals don't commit crimes any more frequently than the general population is accurate, then we MUST conclude that native born Hispanics and and legal-immigrant Hispanics commit crimes at even much higher rates than the general population.

7/16/2009 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only racism I see is from the illegal alien advocates that seem to think that their ethnicity (Latino) and proximity give them the right to ignore the immigration laws that the rest of the world follows.

I don't care if you're a hard-core criminal looking to expand your drug/prostitution trade, or a peasant trying to find a higher paying job. If you did not follow the legal immigration process, you ARE a criminal and are essentially stealing an opportunity from a citizen or legal immigrant.

I don't think the Sutherland group and other pro-illegal alien advocates really want the anarchy that would come when individuals pick and choose which laws they are going to obey.

Perhaps the Sutherland group could revisit their statistics in light of the information provided by Rep. Herrod and account for the discrepancies. You would think they would be embarrassed that the numbers used in their report differ from publicly available numbers already published by the jail. At best, it shows unprofessionalism on the part of the institute and at worst reflects a deliberate attempt to manipulate the data to make their point.

7/16/2009 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to the above comment that illegal immigrants that do not obey immigration laws are criminals, the immigration laws themselves bias and flawed. Let us not forget the civil rights movement. There were many “Laws” that were created to segregate. So, because they are laws then they are right/fair/just? Not every law in the book needs to go under such scrutiny, but those that deny a person equal rights and an equal opportunity, an opportunity that the anonymous individual does not want to neither give nor knows what it is like to have been denied. This anonymous individual must not have any idea what it is like if he/she can brush it off in such a manner. If laws could be changed to make it an easy process then immigrants from anywhere would have no excuse. Procedures are very costly, often times more expensive then sending a child to college and even lengthier then an undergraduate degree. This is the land of opportunity. Let us not forget this! We must make ourselves competitive in a competitive industry.

7/17/2009 5:02 PM  

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