Andres Oppenheimer

‘Shoot them in the legs’ would be Trump’s cruelest immigration policy yet, and based on a lie | Opinion

Customs and Border Protection agents fire M4 rifles during a qualification test.
Customs and Border Protection agents fire M4 rifles during a qualification test. Getty Images

What’s most revolting about President Trump’s reported instructions to U.S. soldiers to “shoot them in the legs” in order to stop migrants at the border is not just that it’s a ruthless comment that one would expect only from the dictator of a banana republic dictator. What’s most disgusting is that it’s perpetuating Trump’s blatant lie that America is facing an immigration crisis.

In fact, Trump’s “immigration crisis” is a hoax. The data show that it’s a fiction he has created from the start of his 2015 campaign to stoke xenophobia and present himself as America’s savior. It’s an old populist/nationalist recipe, which he hopes will help him win re-election in 2020.

Trump’s “shoot them in the legs” suggestion, made at a White House meeting in March, is contained in the upcoming book “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration,” by New York Times reporters Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfield Davis.

At a meeting in the White House in March, Trump lashed out at his top aides for not doing enough to stop migrants at the border. In addition to asking that troops shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down, Trump called for fortifying the wall with a water-filled trench, “stocked with snakes or alligators,” the book says.

“You are making me look like an idiot!” a visibly frustrated Trump shouted, according to several sources at the meeting. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.”

But while most in the media are dwelling on the cruelty and illegality of Trump’s reported request to shoot immigrants, few are focusing on the false premise that underlies this latest presidential scandal: Trump’s claim that the United States is being “invaded” by Mexicans and Central Americans is a blatant lie.

Consider some facts:

- Contrary to Trump’s “invasion” claims, the number of undocumented people entering this country has fallen significantly in recent years. Despite a small uptick last year, the number of undocumented migrants seized at the U.S. border has plummeted from 1.6 million in 2001 to 396,000 in 2018, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.

- While Trump is fixated on building a wall on the southern border, a growing share of unauthorized migrants, such as tourists and business travelers, are arriving by air and overstay their visas. These likely “overstays” have made up a large majority of unauthorized immigrant arrivals, according to the Pew Research Center, a respected nonpartisan “fact-tank.”

- While Trump focuses on Mexican and Central American migrants, more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants have arrived in the United States in most years since 2010. In 2017, India was the top country of origin of new immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — with 126,000 people, followed by Mexico (124,000) and China (121,000,) Pew figures show.

- As opposed to Trump’s claim that undocumented migrants take jobs that Americans need, the percentage of unauthorized immigrants as a share of the U.S. labor force has declined from 5.4 percent in 2007 to 4.6 percent in 2017, Pew studies show.

- Contrary to Trump’s claim that undocumented migrants bring crime to the country, a Florida State University study of more than 19,000 former Florida felons published on Sept. 18 in Justice Quarterly showed that immigrants — both documented an undocumented — were much less likely to commit another felony once they were released from prison than U.S.-born Americans.

Of course, Trump must know all of this, but facts don’t matter to him. He is perpetuating his immigration scare, even as it results in a wave of racial hate crimes, because he believes it will energize his base on Election Day. What’s most shameful about his “I ran on this. It’s my issue” campaign is not just the cruelty of wanting to shoot people, it’s the fact that he wants to do it on false premises — and only against brown-skinned people.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera