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Where’s the Denominator?

eye on the news

Where’s the Denominator?

A newspaper peddles spurious claims about the cruelty of American immigration policy. October 19, 2015
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The following headline on the website of the Guardian, said to be the third most-visited newspaper site in the world, caught my attention: US GOVERNMENT DEPORTING CENTRAL AMERICAN MIGRANTS TO THEIR DEATHS. The following was printed in large letters: “Guardian investigation into consequences of Obama’s migration crackdown reveals US deportees have been murdered shortly after return to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with study saying as many as 83 killed since 2014.”

Then came a picture of a young man in a hospital in San Pedro Sula waiting to be treated for a stab wound. It showed only his hand resting on a white hospital surface surrounded by smears and drops of blood. The caption reads: “A man who was severely injured with a knife by unidentified assailants waits for medical treatment at the emergency room of a public hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.” There was no claim that he was a deportee from the United States. The photo was used only to raise the emotional temperature of the reader. Since San Pedro Sula is the city with the world’s highest annual murder rate—187 per 100,000 population—it is, unfortunately, not difficult to take such photographs. Nor is it difficult to understand why anyone should wish to leave San Pedro Sula.

As it happens, I worked in an English city inhabited by many migrants who had entered the country illegally. The officially accepted reasons for granting asylum—persecution because of race, religion, membership of a social group, or political opinion—didn’t by any means exhaust their reasons for leaving their countries, or even for justifiably fearing to return to them. Governments, alas, are not the only persecutors of people. Irrespective of their reasons for immigrating illegally, most of these people had had extremely hard, unenviable lives, and it was difficult not to sympathize with most of them as individuals (though some were criminals pure and simple, seeking a more fertile field in which to sow and reap).

But the point I want to make is that the article in the Guardian, while giving the numerator, failed completely to give the denominator. That is, it said, for example, that 35 Hondurans had been killed since 2014 after being returned to Honduras. Let us examine this a little more closely. The overall homicide rate in Honduras is 84 per 100,000 inhabitants per year, meaning that 41,667 Hondurans would have had to be deported in a year to expect 35 of them to die by homicide upon their return to Honduras. But, in fact, “since 2014” means 21 months, so 22,810 would have to be deported annually for the figure of 35 to have been reached.

It is probably necessary to make further adjustments downward to reach the numbers of Honduran deportees needed for 35 of them to be killed, because even in Honduras, murder does not strike the population at random, or equally geographically, or in all age and social groups. It is highly likely that from the point of view of age and social class, the repatriated migrants came from those groups most likely to be killed. In other words, it is possible (though I do not say that it is actually so) that the figure of 22,810 should be divided by 2—equalling 11,405—in order to reach the number of deported illegal immigrants who would have been killed anyway had they stayed in Honduras. Whether more or fewer than 11,405 Hondurans are deported from the United States per annum I do not know, and the article does not tell me, nor does it suggest any need to inform me on this point.

That is not surprising, because the article’s real point (exemplified by calling the migrants “undocumented” rather than illegal) is rhetorical rather than informative: it wants to claim that the United States, or by extension any other country, including Britain, has no right to control who enters it to live there. And that in turn implies, ultimately, world government—at least as far as countries to which people want to emigrate are concerned.

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