Fox News continued to stoke fears that immigrants are a threat to public safety by advancing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's argument that granting undocumented immigrants driver's licenses might endanger American citizens. Fox has repeatedly sought to equate immigrants with an increase in crime, even as experts argue that crime drops as immigration rises.
Discussing a lawsuit challenging Brewer's decision, Fox News anchor Uma Pemmaraju suggested on Happening Now that Brewer is right to deny undocumented immigrants driver's licenses because it could jeopardize public safety. Pemmaraju stated: “What about when she raises issues about the safety of the citizens -- the fact that we already have situations that threaten our people here? We don't need another added burden.”
In fact, experts contend that licensing undocumented immigrants will do the exact opposite -- increase public safety and promote the rule of law since it would encourage people who would otherwise be on the road anyway to get the training needed to obtain the license.
In June 2012, the Obama administration announced it would grant “deferred action” to certain undocumented immigrants under 31, exempting them from deportation for a period renewable every two years. Those who qualify are eligible to obtain work permits and Social Security cards. Though they do not have full legal status, they are considered to be lawfully present in the United States under the program.
Two months later, Brewer issued an executive order denying driver's licenses and IDs to the undocumented youths, claiming that state law barred these immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.
This action was unusual. According to the National Immigration Law Center, at least 38 states, including the District of Columbia, have announced they will issue or plan to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants who have deferred status. Only two -- Arizona and Nebraska -- have explicitly said they will deny them. A number of states have cited the benefit to public safety as reason to issue driver's licenses, saying it would promote the rule of law and cut down on traffic violations and unlicensed drivers.
As Reuters reported when Illinois was still considering its decision (it has since agreed to allow immigrants to obtain licenses):
Unlicensed, uninsured drivers are involved in almost 80,000 accidents in Illinois each year, resulting in $660 million in damage, according to the Illinois Highway Safety Coalition. Unlicensed immigrant drivers cost $64 million in damage claims alone.
The Safety Coalition said on its website that since New Mexico made the change in 2003, the rate of uninsured motorists fell from 33 percent to under 9 percent.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that the majority of high-risk drivers are unlicensed: “One fatal crash in five (20%) involves a driver who is unlicensed or whose license is suspended, canceled, or revoked.” The foundation adds: “Unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers.”
Unlicensed drivers in California -- the vast majority of whom are illegal immigrants -- are nearly three times as likely to cause a fatal crash as licensed drivers, according to a study by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The report suggests that merely meeting the modest requirements necessary to get a license -- passing a written exam and driving test -- could improve road safety and help reduce the several thousand fatalities that occur in the state each year.
“If you don't hold people accountable to acceptable standards, then we get people that aren't prepared and don't have the skill set,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The Times wrote that the "[f]indings suggest that allowing illegal immigrants to become certified drivers could reduce fatal accidents."
Fox News personalities have repeatedly linked undocumented immigrants with higher crime though the data doesn't support their assertions. In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or end up behind bars than native-born Americans, as the Immigration Policy Center has noted.
Even the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies has acknowledged that fact. From NPR:
Brewer's critics say there's simply no evidence that illegal immigrants are driving up crime rates. And even the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which opposes increased immigration, came to the same conclusion.
“There's no evidence that immigrants -- or even illegal immigrants -- are necessarily any more or less likely to be committing crimes than the population at large, says Jessica Vaughan, the center's director of policy studies. ”It's just that they tend to be associated with certain types of crimes -- drug trafficking, for example."
There is evidence that immigrants are overrepresented in local prison systems in Arizona and elsewhere. But overall, violent crime is actually lower than you would expect along the U.S. border with Mexico, says Ramiro Martinez, who teaches criminology at Northeastern University.
“In Texas, homicides are actually a little bit lower in border counties than they are in the rest of the state,” Martinez says. “Not only in Texas, but also in New Mexico and Arizona, in California -- more immigrants means less crime.”