News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A shameless exploitation of tragedies

The arguments over the economic impact of illegal immigration have taken on a theological air. Those supporting the immigrants quote as gospel an array of statistics showing the salubrious effect of low wages coupled with little negative impact on our social infrastructure. The opponents counter with a barrage of contradictory figures that prove illegals are a scourge of biblical proportions. In the end, the economic argument becomes an article of faith, a series of numbers that justify our preconceived beliefs.

However, the anti-immigrant crowd has taken an angle to smear illegals that is truly scurrilous. Brought to national attention by the now infamous on-air dust-up between Bill O’Reilly and Gerardo Rivera, opponents of immigration have been morbidly trolling the news for any drunk driving death involving an illegal immigrant. Following Billo’s lead, natavist blogs frequently show photos of the innocent victims, shamelessly currying anger and resentment against illegals through these tragic deaths.

This kind of attack is not only callous and exploitative, on closer examination, it actually proves the exact opposite of what the anti-immigrant set would have you believe. The fact is, according to the numbers O’Reilly and his bunch use, illegal immigrants are actually safer drivers and far less likely to be involved in a vehicular death than the average American.

Let’s examine the facts. According to a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers report from November of 2006, drunk drivers kill 13,000 people each year in the United States. Although frequently debated, the most commonly accepted number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is 12 million (some estimates range up to 30 million). At 12 million, this represents 4% of the U.S. population which reached 300 million in 2006. Therefore, the drunk driving deaths by illegal immigrants should average around 520 each year.

So far, the national total of people killed by illegal immigrants driving drunk stands at six. Rest assured, if there were more, the nativists would have found them. That’s six traffic deaths involving a drunk illegal alien when the national averages indicate 520 would be a representative number. Maybe we should have a guest worker program that hires illegals as driving instructors. Pardon me. I’m being flippant and this is not a laughing matter.

Looking over this obvious attempt by the nativists to deceive the public, I’m left with a nagging question. What kind of desperation leads people to exploit the deaths of innocents to further their political agenda?

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Author of America Libre