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Missouri House speaker creates committee to study crime by undocumented immigrants

The Missouri State House of Representatives gavel in for the start of the 2024 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State House of Representatives gavel in for the start of the 2024 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

A Democrat on the committee says the move is election year posturing.

Missouri’s House speaker has created a committee aimed at looking at crimes by undocumented immigrants.

Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, announced the committee Tuesday. He said the goal is to reduce crime in the state.

“The message needs to be if you're not here in the state of Missouri legally, you're going to be detained, and you're going to be deported if you're committing crimes, particularly the heinous crimes that our citizens are afflicted with,” Plocher said.

The committee consists of 16 Republicans and seven Democrats.

Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, will head the committee. Roberts is also the chairman of the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

“This is a thorny issue, this is not going to be easy to deal with. We know that it will be a target for some people who will try to cast it as something other than what it is,” Roberts said. “The important thing that I would like to say to you this morning is this is first and foremost about crime.”

Multiple studies over the years have debunked a link between undocumented immigrants and violent crime.

Research indicates that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those born in the United States.

There have also been investigations showing there is no correlation between undocumented immigrants and a rise in violent crime. That includes investigations done by the New York Times and the Marshall Project.

Neither Plocher, Roberts or other Republicans at the announcement on Tuesday provided specific data on immigrant-caused crime in Missouri.

“I'm not going to pretend to have a litany of all that,” Roberts said. “Today, I will tell you that there is a lot of data associated with that, data we intend to spend a lot of time talking about.”

The committee will likely have six hearings across the state over a roughly 60-day period, Roberts said.

The announcement of the committee also comes less than a week after Gov. Mike Parson vetoed $6 million out of the state budget that was allocated for troops at the Texas-Mexico border.

In his veto letter, Parson said his executive order that sent both Missouri National Guard Troops and Missouri Highway Patrol troopers had already ended.

Plocher disagreed with the veto.

“I would certainly not have done that. I certainly advocate for keeping the Missouri National Guard at the border protecting Missourians,” Plocher said.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, is one of the Democrats appointed to the new committee. She said the issue of undocumented immigrants isn’t top of mind for the Missourians she has talked to.

“I'm not just talking to Democrats either, I am talking to Republicans and independent voters. This is not an issue that comes up,” Weber said.

Weber also said she believes the committee was formed because it’s an election year.

Plocher is seeking the Republican nomination for Missouri secretary of state.

“This is a way for him to campaign off fear mongering, and to get his name out there a little bit more,” Weber said.

Both Plocher and a fellow secretary of state candidate, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, have made ensuring undocumented immigrants don’t vote in Missouri elections a cornerstone of their campaigns.

Missourians will vote in November on a ballot initiative that would bar noncitizens from voting in state elections even though that is already illegal.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Kellogg is a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri studying public affairs reporting. She spent her undergraduate days as a radio/television major and reported for KBIA. In addition to reporting shifts, Sarah also hosted KBIA’s weekly education show Exam, was an afternoon newscaster and worked on the True/False podcast. Growing up, Sarah listened to episodes of Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! with her parents during long car rides. It’s safe to say she was destined to end up in public radio.