As the Supreme Court turned to the legality of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Trump and one of his top immigration officials made grossly misleading claims about the danger that DACA recipients pose.
On Tuesday, President Trump claimed there are 53,792 DACA recipients with arrest records. “That is a very large proportion of the total,” he tweeted.
DACA recipients with arrest records: 53,792! That is a very large proportion of the total. @LouDobbs Not good, but we will be able to make a deal with the Dems!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2019
The following day, Trump’s temporary chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Ken Cuccinelli echoed the president’s tweet, claiming “let’s not forget that this is a program in which over 53k recipients have arrest records – these numbers reveal a very different version of the DACA narrative.”
Both claims are unmoored from the government’s own data. According to the very agency that Cuccinelli heads, 53,792, the figure that Trump listed in his tweet, is the “number of DACA requestors approved with a prior arrest.” This means that they were granted DACA despite the arrest. Though certainly not an insignificant number, it is a mere 7.76 percent of the people who requested DACA. Trump’s claim that this represents a “very large proportion of the total” is simply false.
Since the day DACA was announced by the Obama administration, it has included stringent bars for people with a wide range of criminal activity. The USCIS website explains that DACA can only be granted to people who “have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety,” plus the other requirements. For DHS to grant 53,792 requests even though those individuals had been arrested for something means that even DHS doesn’t think these arrests are a very big deal. The government’s data reports on information from 2012 to the beginning of 2018.
Also, an arrest is not synonymous with a conviction. Many people who are arrested are never prosecuted for any crime. At other times, people who are prosecuted are not convicted. This is a standard feature of the criminal justice system in the United States. Indeed, the USCIS report that list the arrest data that Trump and Cuccinelli referenced explicitly notes this important distinction. “An arrest indicates the individual was arrested or apprehended only and does not mean the individual was convicted of a crime. Further, individuals may not have been charged with a crime resulting from the arrest, may have had their charges reduced or dismissed entirely, or may have been acquitted of any charges,” the report states. Either Trump and Cuccinnelli don’t understand the difference between an arrest and a conviction or they don’t care. Either is possible, but both are troubling.
The claims that Trump and Cuccinelli tweeted are made worse by the specific crimes for which those 53,792 people were actually arrested—not charged and definitely convicted, but merely arrested. According to the USCIS compilation, the single largest group of arrests were for “Driving-related (excl. DUI).” Exactly 38.9 percent of the applicants (20,926 requestors) for DACA who were arrested for some reason prior to receiving DACA were arrested for a driving infraction. USCIS explains that this category “include[s] driving without a valid license, moving and non-moving violations, and speeding, among others.”
The next largest portion of the arrests were “Immigration-related (incl. civil and criminal offenses).” This category “include[s] visa overstays, immigration holds, and removal and deportation proceedings, among others.” Of the 53,972 DACA beneficiaries with a prior arrest, 22.05 percent (11,861 requestors) were arrested for nothing more serious than a violation of immigration law. It’s worth noting that everyone who has obtained DACA protection admits to having violated immigration law. Is anyone surprised that some of them were arrested for this reason?
Combining the two, 61 percent of the people who were arrested before DHS granted them DACA were arrested for nothing more serious than a driving violation or an offense related to the fact that they lack the government’s authorization to be in the US. And for absolutely none does the government’s data support any conclusion that these people were convicted of this or any crime.