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Ron Unz, Latinos, Liberals, and Scholarship | The Nation

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Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Ron Unz, Latinos, Liberals, and Scholarship

Unlike my colleague Alexander Cockburn, I was not surprised by "HisPANIC: the Myth of Immigrant Crime," Ron Unz's article in The American Conservative showing that Latinos in the US have a crime rate no higher than that of whites once you adjust for age. That's because Unz's thesis, which both he and Alex think is new and original, is in fact well-known. Even I, no sociologist, was aware of it. I'm glad that Unz, a multi-millionaire best known for pushing California's successful 1998 referendum banning bilingual education, is challenging anti-immigrant rightwingers like Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck. (For reasons I still don't understand, The Nation published a piece by Unz in support of his referendum, causing me to resign my largely ceremonial title as associate editor.) But it's annoying when conservatives take credit for work liberals have been doing for much longer and far more seriously. It's even more irritating when a leftist is so eager to bash liberals, he joins the parade.

A little research – some internet searches, a few e-mails, maybe (gasp) a phone call or two--would have shown how empty Unz's claims to originality are. But facts would have interfered with Alex's theory that "foundation liberals" left the research undone because they sympathize unconsciously with racism due to their obsession with "population control." Or something like that.

Let's go through Alex's claims.

Has Ron Unz discovered something new? No. The low crime rate of Latinos has been studied by social scientists for over a decade now. It's part of the much-studied "Latino paradox," the numerous ways in which Latinos in the US do better than their poverty would lead one to expect. (Low infant mortality and normal birth weights are others.) Numerous scholars have written on Latino non-crime. Among the more prominent are Robert J. Sampson at Harvard, Ruben Rumbaut at UC Irvine, Philip Kasinitz and John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center, and Florida International University's Ramiro Martinez, whose "Latino Homicide: Immigration, Violence, and Community was published by Routledge way back in in 2002. ("I'm amused by [Unz's] "discovery" of something I've been writing about since the last millennium," Rumbaut wrote in a long e mail to me laying out the recent literature in considerable detail.) Unz even cites Rumbaut in a footnote, although the only scholars he cites in the body of his text are the co-authors of a paper challenging federal statistics on imprisonment of immigrants, and the American Enterprise Institute's Douglas Besharov, who, Sampson told me in an e-mail, is basically rehashing in a New York Times op-ed, an argument Sampson made a year earlier (that the increase in immigration was linked to the drop in crime.)Here's a handy list of recent articles, including those mentioned below, but by no means complete.

Has this academic work received support from "liberal foundations" ? Yes. Sampson and Rumbaut have both received major support from the MacArthur, Mellon and Russell Sage foundations. Martinez has received grants from the Ford Foundation and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Mollenkopf and Kasinitz have been funded by Russell Sage, Rockefeller, Mellon and Ford. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Big foundations fund think tanks, policy institutes, and even other foundations. The Public Policy Institute of California, which in 2008 published "Crime, Corrections and California: What does Immigration Have to Do with It," by Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, lists a slew of foundations among its funders, including Ford, Gates, Hewlett and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The National Immigration Forum, another NGO which has done work in this area, was co-founded by a Ford trustee and has received grants from just about every big "liberal foundation" you can think of. To say that foundations have steered clear of this area is just false, or as Rumbaut put it, ‘laughable to the max, squared."

 

Has the story of Latino non-crime been publicized in what Unz calls the "very supportive mainstream media"? Yes. That is how I knew about it. To mention just a few relevant pieces, Sampson had an op-ed in the New York Times in 2006 "Open Doors Don't Invite Criminals." That same year, Eyal Press, a frequent Nation contributor, had an excellent and I would have thought quite noticeable article, "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?," in the New York Times Magazine. The Latino "crime wave" has been debunked in Time, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. Unz was even scooped by other conservatives. Both David Brooks and Linda Chavez got there way before him.

 

 

If the myth of Latino crime persists, it's not because nobody debunked it before Ron Unz came along. Nor is it because liberal foundations have shown no interest in establishing the truth. It's because lots of Americans have racist and anti-immigrant feelings that are resistant to factual information. As Sampson told me when we spoke on the phone, "There's a long link in the popular mind between the perception of immigrant presence and the perception of disorder." Sampson thinks the research is getting traction, though. "It takes time for the information to penetrate, because of people's prejudices. But I think it's changing."

You could even say that Ron Unz's article shows the word has gotten out -- apparently, even to Alex.

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