Lars Larson's solution for the nation's illegal immigration is nothing if not simple: Throw every single undocumented immigrant out of the United States. That's the radio talk host's idea of comprehensive immigration reform, which, unsurprisingly, is the antithesis of comprehensive. To make his case, Larson has been appearing on Fox News to repeatedly perpetuate the myth that undocumented immigrants commit "a larger proportionate share" of crimes.
This week on America Live, he again advocated for immigrants' removal based on that same myth that they are "involved in more than their share ... of criminal activity." And this time he went even further: He enthusiastically endorsed the type of deportations that often break up the families of American children.
During Fox News' coverage of the federal immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, which targets for deportation undocumented immigrants "who present the greatest threat" -- for example, those who have been convicted of "major drug offenses, national security crimes, and violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and kidnapping" -- Larson attacked states like California and Illinois who have decided not to participate. Larson said that these states "should be looking out for their own citizens" and demanded that they "stand up for their citizens." He added that by choosing to opt out, "California is selling out California."
Unsurprisingly, Larson seemed ignorant of the actual rationale behind the states' decisions.
In an article on the reasons behind Illinois' withdrawal from the program, The New York Times reported:
Governor Quinn, in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that runs the Secure Communities program, said the Illinois State Police were withdrawing because the program had not met the terms of a 2009 agreement with the state. Under that memorandum, the program's purpose was to identify and deport immigrants "who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses."
Statistics from the immigration agency showed that nearly one-third of immigrants deported from Illinois under the program had no criminal convictions. It is a civil violation for an immigrant to be in the United States illegally; it is not a crime.
"Illinois signed up to help I.C.E. remove criminals convicted of serious crimes, but based on the statistics from I.C.E., that's not what was happening," said Brie Callahan, the governor's spokeswoman.
And in an editorial, the Los Angeles Times further explained:
When federal officials first announced the Secure Communities program in 2008, they billed it as a powerful tool in the battle to identify and deport illegal immigrants who had been convicted of violent crimes. Dozens of states, including California, signed on, agreeing that police would submit the fingerprints of all arrestees to be checked against federal databases for criminal convictions and deportation orders.
But the program, once billed as a voluntary partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and localities, is now mired in controversy. The government is investigating whether it has failed to nab dangerous criminals and has instead been used to target low-level nonviolent offenders. Since its launch, more than half of those deported under Secure Communities had minor or no criminal convictions, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. In Los Angeles County, for example, nearly half of the 11,774 deported under the program from August 2009 to January 2011 had no convictions or had committed misdemeanors. They were targeted for deportation because the program doesn't distinguish between criminals and those who illegally entered the U.S. or overstayed a visa -- a civil violation.
What's more, in some cities with large immigrant communities, police are concerned that their participation in the program will have a chilling effect on immigrants' willingness to report crimes or provide useful information.
But Larson and guest host Martha MacCallum did not discuss the program's reported shortcomings, instead pushing the notion that the program would help states "look out for their own citizens." MacCallum in turn accused states like California of "defection." Bob Beckel, who also was on the show, pointed out that "Lars' comment about higher incidence of crime among undocumented workers is just wrong." He later articulated one of the main problems opponents have with the system:
BECKEL: There was an instance of a guy being stopped for speeding, which is a misdemeanor count. He was Hispanic. The police took him down to the police station, which they don't normally do on speeding charges, and they fingerprinted him and sent it to the INS. He was shipped out of the country and his family was left behind.
Larson replied: "Good. Good."
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, "nearly four-in-five (79%) of the 5.1 million children (younger than age 18) of unauthorized immigrants were born in this country and therefore are U.S. citizens. In total, 4 million U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents resided in this country in 2009, alongside 1.1 million foreign-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents."
In February 2010, the Urban Institute reported in a study that by "one estimate, in the last 10 years, over 100,000 immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported from the United States." It found that "[p]arent-child separations pose serious risks to children's immediate safety, economic security, well-being, and longer-term development." Discussing the sometimes painful choices families faced as a result of deportations, the study reported:
In the long term, at least 20 families in our study experienced the deportation of a parent and were forced to confront painful decisions about whether children would leave the country with the deported parent or remain in the United States with either the other parent or another relative. In eight of these families, some or all of the children went with one or both parents to the parents' countries of origin, and in 12 cases, children remained in the United States, separated from one of their parents. The whole family left to join the deported parent in some of these cases, while in others the parents and siblings were split between countries.
Our time frame was not long enough to assess the impacts on children who faced separations following deportation or, in most cases, to know the ultimate outcome regarding deportations and longer-term separations. Finally, in a few cases, parents returned illegally to the United States to be reunited with their children and families. The return journeys were rough, and one parent died the day after he was reunited with his family.
The study, done in conjunction with researchers from the Migration Policy Institute, went on to document other negative effects, including housing instability, food hardship, and adverse behavioral changes in children.
In an April 2010 report, First Focus, an "organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions," focused on American children placed in child social service agencies as a result of being separated from their undocumented parents. It found that "over 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent are at risk of unnecessarily entering the child welfare system when a parent is detained or deported." First Focus argued:
In many cases, schools, early learning and child care centers, social service agencies, and communities are unprepared to respond adequately to protect the best interests of children left behind. Often, detained parents are not able to make child care arrangements, resulting in the unnecessary placement of their children in the child welfare system. Once a child is placed into foster care, it is extremely difficult for a detained parent to reunify with his or her child, especially if that parent is transferred to an out-of-state detention facility or deported before regaining custody of his or her child.
It's hardly surprising that Larson, who peppers his speech on immigrants using the loaded term "illegals" -- a common Fox practice that journalism groups say skews public debate -- ignored these findings. He has said he "want[s] all illegal aliens gone from the country," and written that "[w]e need to take a second look at the 14th Amendment."
To Larson, it appears these children can't even be considered American citizens, to be afforded all the rights and protection they are due under the Constitution. It's really just a matter of time before he advocates for their removal as well.