The Anecdote Fallacy.

As immigrant-rights supporters urge Gov. Jan Brewer to veto Arizona's tough new immigration bill, Randal Archibold at The New York Times examines how a state with one of the largest Latino populations has come so close to passing the country's most punitive anti-immigrant bill yet. He notes John McCain's change of heart on comprehensive immigration reform and details the political rise of the bill's chief architect, state Rep. Russell Pearce, who went from a Republican "embarrassment" to a party leader. While Arizona's turn to the right has been in the works for some time, Archibold notes that at least some nativist sentiment has been stoked by the recent murder of a border-area rancher by an undocumented immigrant.

It strikes me how much discussion of immigration debate is driven by anecdotal evidence. This is of course not limited to the immigration debate -- how many health-care reform conversations revolved around the scenario of a Brit waiting in line for care? -- and personalized stories aren't bad per se; they can dramatize an underlying statistic or phenomenon. This was the case when, for example, the National Center for Lesbian Rights publicized the story of an elderly gay couple who were separated and had all their possessions sold by Sonoma County authorities – despite legal agreements intended to protect from such a scenario.

The problem, however, is when anecdotes misrepresent the underlying phenomenon. The outrage in Arizona over rancher Robert Krentz's tragic death obscures the fact that undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than U.S. citizens.

For doctrinaire pundits like Michelle Malkin, who blamed McCain and "his open-borders, Soros-funded advisor Juan Hernandez" for the incident, willfully ignoring the larger trend in favor of a sensational story is just another instance of confirmation bias. But for those who are less committed in their views, the misplaced emphasis – and lack of context – gives the impression that the Krentz affair is a morality tale about our lack of border enforcement when really, it's an outlier.

-- Gabriel Arana

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