Thursday, December 07, 2006

Anti-immigrant hoax email exposed.

I get hoax emails all the time. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Most I get seem to be perpetrated by conservatives and religious nuts. Maybe the Left has similar hoax emails but no one sends them to me or maybe there is something about the Right that makes them susceptible to irrational and false claims. As a classical liberal I’m opposed to socialism and to conservatism. So I like to think, maybe wrongly, I’m better able to judge claims coming from both extremes.

One email I got fairly often is supposedly based on facts from the Los Angeles Times and is about illegal immigrants in the United States. It’s a hoax. But, boy the nativists, racialists, and such, really love this email. The last person who sent it to me got a detailed reply debunking the email. Since this hoax is all over the internet I thought I’d post it and my reply.

Email: From the LA Times

Reply: The Los Angeles Times doesn’t seem to think so. They received numerous questions about the claims and set about investigating if said claims came from them or not. They said “we combed our archives to see whether the paper had indeed written anything like these facts”. They hadn’t.

Next they checked up on each specific claim, to see if it could be found in the paper. Instead of there being one article, making these 10 claims, there might be numerous articles making these claims. Here are the claims and what was found.

Claim 1: 40% of all workers in L.A. County ( L.A. County has 10.2 million people) are working for cash and not paying taxes. This was because they are predominantly illegal immigrants, working without a green card.

The Los Angeles Times found no indication that this was ever published in their paper. Not satisfied with just stating they never published it they also looked to see if the claim was true. One survey by an agency of the local country government said that maybe 15%, not 40%, of all workers were paid cash. And certainly not all of them were illegals.

I have had numerous people work for me over the years who were paid cash. None of them were illegals, except perhaps one. I hired a Spanish speaking man to do some painting for me. I did not, and would not, verify his immigration status. I am not an agent of the federal government in any form and won’t be forced to do involuntary service for them. But, with this one exception, all the people I’ve ever paid to do work for me were native born and all of them were paid cash due to the nature of the work.

Los Angeles is also a center of the tax protest movement and many of these people, virtually all of them Right-wing and native born, prefer to work for cash in order to make tracing the income difficult for the IRS.

I would think that if 15% of all workers are paid in cash that would mean that well under 15% were illegals.

Conclusion: Not from the LA Times and inaccurate.

Claim 2: 95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.

Reply: The LA Times found that they quoted a conservative who claimed that “95% of outstanding warrants” were for illegals. Note the hoax email deleted the word “outstanding” and specified murder in its place. Instead of referring to a specific subset of warrants, as claimed by this conservative but not verified independently, they changed it to refer to all warrants.

Outstanding warrants would be warrants that could not be served for any reason. Illegals would be harder to trace as they wouldn’t have bank accounts, or other official records that would make it easy to trace them. If you had 100 warrants for regular residents and 100 for undocumented workers the latter would be much harder to trace. So “illegals” are just harder to serve, making them more likely to be represented in the “outstanding warrant” category. You can’t extrapolate from that to all warrants as this email did.

The Times did try to verify this number and they were told by the District Attorney’s office that the government doesn't keep track of this number and no one would know one way or another.

Conclusion: Not from the paper, a distortion of what someone said, and factually dubious.

Claim 3: 75% of people on the most wanted list in Los Angeles are illegal aliens.

The paper says they never published this claim. And they were not able to find anything verifying it. They noted that many people, who are listed as wanted, are listed as “unknown” and that this is true at the local level and national level. I have seen such “wanted” lists myself and can confirm that “unknown” individuals are listed on them. The paper notes that if the “wanted individual” is unknown, then this makes it hard to come to any meaningful determination of what percentage are immigrants, since the authorities are not sure who these people are. And the list I saw appeared to have around 50+ unknowns on it.

In addition when I look at the list of most wanted in Los Angeles, I find the following information about the individuals listed: name, when known, gender, ethnic descent, height, weight, hair color, eye color, date of birth, age, tattoos or “oddities”. No where does it list whether they are legal or illegal. And often the “descent” is not known.

In addition the list includes suspects wanted for crimes from decades ago. One suspect was listed as wanted for a crime from 1984. If the list is added to, with names only deleted upon capture, then over time, those individuals who can most easily leave the US and escape incarceration will begin to dominate the list. As an example pretend you added 10 names every month to the list, of whom 7 are native born or legal immigrants, and three are illegal immigrants from Mexico. Assume that 6 of the 7 native born are arrested and removed from the list. But, say that a larger percentage of the illegals flee the country, so you only capture one of the three, that would leave two of them on the list. You started with 30% of the list being illegals. When arrests are made you might end up with 66% (two out of three) remaining on the list being illegals.

And since immigrants, legal or otherwise, from Mexico would find it easier to flee to Mexico their capture rate would be less than the general population. As the list of uncaptured suspects grows these individuals would take up more and more of the list. This list does not reflect the crime rate of these people, it reflects the rate of capture by the police and it is harder to find people who can easily flee across the border.

Conclusion: not printed by the paper and factually very dubious.

Claim 4: Over 2/3 of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal, whose births were paid for by taxpayers.

Reply: The paper has run many articles about births and immigration but none contained this claim. And this racist email specifically says that 2/3rds of all births in LA were to illegal Mexican immigrants. According to the county 62% of all births were to Hispanic women but obviously a good number of these women are either native born or legal immigrants.

This hoax took the total percent of Hispanic births and then assumed that every single one of them was an illegal alien and also assumed that every single one of them were hospitalized using state benefits.

Conclusion: Not from the paper. Factually the statement is a vast exaggeration and distortion.

Claim 5: Nearly 25% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally.

Reply: The newspaper says that the closest they find to this claim is an opinion piece they ran by Right-wing Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, who is a well-known opponent of immigration. But Tancredo said the number was 20% not 25%.

However, there is no clear definition of “California detention centers”. Does it mean all detentions centers of any kind in Californi,a or only those run by the state of California? We don’t know if they include federal prisons and juvenile centers or not. We also don’t know if this includes centers where illegal immigrants are detained before deportation—centers where, by definition, 100% of the inmates would be illegals.

So, we really don’t know the confines of this claim. But the LA Times did find that the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about illegal immigrants in federal prison and found that 13% of them, or about half what was claimed, were illegals. They also noted that the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform claimed that 11% of all prisoners were “illegals”. Again well under the claim of the email

Conclusion: While articles on the subject were run by the paper, none of them claimed this number and the number claimed appears to be at least double the actual number.

Claim 6: Over 300,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages.

Reply: The newspaper has run articles on “illegal” apartments in Los Angeles but none of the articles contained this statistic or referred to the immigration status of occupants.

An illegal apartment is any apartment built without approval of politicians—like illegal immigrants are anyone in the US without the approval of politicians. The city of Los Angeles estimates that the total number of people in all illegal apartments of any kind, not just converted garages, is around 200,000. And there is no reason to assume that all of them, plus an extra 100,000 thumb sucked by the email, are illegals. I’ve known people in California who lived in “illegal” apartments and were quite happy with them, and they were not illegal immigrants either. In fact the one friend I have in mind came from a family of fundamentalist, native born John Birchers.

Conclusion: Not from the paper and factually false.

Claim 7: The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border.

Reply: The Times did not report this. They had one article that said that just over half of the members of one specific gang were illegals. The two biggest gangs in LA are the Crips and Bloods neither of which would have many, if any, illegal immigrants. The woman who made the claim about this one gang herself said: “No one knows for certain the percentage of illegals in gangs.” I find numerous Right-wing web sites repeating the claim and none link to an actual source. Some claim sources which I could not find.

Conclusion: Not from the paper and very dubious.

Claim 8: Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal.

Reply: The paper never made this claim. The closest to this they could find was a quote from an anti-immigration group which said that a new law banning illegals from public housing would affect 5% of all residents of public housing in California. Five percent is a long ways from 60% and that was for all HUD properties for the entire country. If anything, California would have a higher rate of illegal immigration, not one substantially lower than the national average.

Conclusion: The paper didn’t say this and the claim is false.

Claim 9: 21 radio stations in L.A. are Spanish speaking

Reply: The paper says that they find no reference in the last 10 years to the number of Spanish radio stations in the wide Los Angeles area.

But this source lists all radio stations in LA. As of today the number of Spanish radio stations, which one can pick up in the LA area, appears to be 18.

Conclusion: Not in the paper but fairly factual. However, of the “facts” listed this is one that is of least concern. It does not deal with crime, welfare or such things. It deals with privately-owned radio stations broadcasting in Spanish to willing listeners. That's called free enterprise. There was a day when conservatives pretended to believe in private enterprise.

Claim 10: In L.A. County 5.1 million people speak English 3.9 million speak Spanish. (There are 10.2 million people in L.A. County ).

Reply: The Times did not report this. But they do find that the census shows that 3.7 million people in LA county speak Spanish. But the email seems to imply they do not speak English. The census figure only shows what language people speak at home, not whether or not they only speak that language. Many Americans I know can speak Spanish, but are not immigrants, not Spanish, and speak English at home.

The version of the email I got said all of this was from the Los Angeles Times. Clearly that is false. Some versions that were circulated imply it might be from various issue of the paper and others claim it all appeared in one article. Other emails attribute it to other sources. This is all a sign of a hoax.

In addition, some of the versions that are being circulating have additional claims tacked on at the end and not part of the original ten.

Final conclusion: These claims did not appear in the Los Angeles Times. Some articles mentioned topics discussed in this hoax but do not verify the claims at all. In fact, the hoax email exaggerates and distorts most of them. The only claim that was somewhat factual was also the least worrisome, and that was the number of radio stations that broadcast in Spanish. And while this was the most correct claim it did not come from the Los Angeles Times as the email states.

Labels: ,