The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Surprise! Donald Trump is wrong about immigrants and crime.

Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a back-yard reception in Bedford, N.H., on June 30. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Donald Trump's two-week-old campaign has been pretty good at sticking to two core points: defending the candidate's anti-immigrant remarks at his announcement and pretending that the companies that responded to those comments by ending their business relationships with him were, instead, rejected by him first.

As a result, we've gotten a wonderful look at the unassailable way in which Trump's mind works: He's always right, until he's not, in which case he was never wrong. You were.

Take the statements that started all of Trump's troubles; they came within the first few minutes of his campaign kick-off, after he rambled for a bit about the crowd and the Islamic State and Japan.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said. "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

With all of the furor that resulted, it's worth noting the two hallmarks of classic Donald Trump that emerged from his response. First, he unfailingly stood by the comments, despite the fallout. And second, he's wrong.

On CNN on Wednesday night, he offered a defense to anchor Don Lemon.

"If you look at the statistics, of people coming ... I didn't say about Mexico, I say the illegal immigrants —if you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything, coming in illegally to the country, they're mind-boggling," he told Lemon.

Every part of that is incorrect. He did say his comments about Mexico — explicitly. And data show that new immigrants —  including illegal immigrants — are actually less likely to commit crime, not more.

To wit:

—"Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course." (Bianca Bersani, University of Massachusetts, 2014. Published in Justice Quarterly.)

Citing Bersani's work, Pew Research created this graph, showing crime rates among the immigrant community.

"The crime rate among first-generation immigrants — those who came to this country from somewhere else — is significantly lower than the overall crime rate and that of the second generation," they write.

Since undocumented immigrants are more than a quarter of the immigrant population, it's nearly impossible that the overall-immigrant crime rate could be so much lower if the undocumented-immigrant crime rate were significantly higher.

— "There’s essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime." (Jörg Spenkuch, Northwestern University, 2014. Published by the university.) He did find a small correlation between immigration and property crime, but only a slight one.

— "[I]mmigrants are underrepresented in California prisons compared to their representation in the overall population. In fact, U.S.-born adult men are incarcerated at a rate over two-and-a-half times greater than that of foreign-born men." (Public Policy Institute of California, 2008.)

— "[D]ata from the census and a wide range of other empirical studies show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, who make up the bulk of the undocumented population." (Ruben Rumbaut, University of California, 2008. Published by the Police Foundation.)

— "Analyses of data collected from four Southwest states and the U.S. Census show that the perceived size of the undocumented immigrant population, more so than the actual size of the immigrant population and economic conditions, is positively associated with perceptions of undocumented immigrants as a criminal threat." (Xia Wang, Arizona State University, 2014. Published in Criminology.)

How did Trump get a simple point so wrong? Consider the response he offered Lemon on his most contentious assertion. Trump offers a sort of ontological rationalization for the "rapists" claim: People are being raped, ergo it's the immigrants' fault.

Trump cited an article from Fusion. "Eighty percent of the women coming in ... " he says, trailing off. "You have to take a look at these stories. ... It's unbelievable, when you look at what's going on. All I'm doing is telling the truth."

Lemon correctly points out that the story was about immigrant women being raped. "Well," Trump replies, "someone's doing the raping, Don." In apparent disbelief, Trump adds, "How can you say such a thing?"

And there you go. Trump completely misreads a media story, turns it into a mushy stat in his head, and uses that as an excuse to bash immigrants without cause. The stat is nowhere near accurate, but that doesn't matter. When he's presented with accurate data, he offers a weird rationale — and then criticizes his critic. Perfect.

In the wake of his announcement, we dubbed Trump to be "un-fact-checkable" for the simple reason that he so often operates outside the bounds of logical discourse. Same here. Trump has septupled down on his bad argument — assuming, as has happened so many times before, that it will all go away.

It probably won't until, almost invariably, his candidacy does.