Immigrants Not More Likely to be Criminals

Trump's demand that "sanctuary cities" publish lists of crimes committed by undocumented is undaunted by far higher criminality of people born here.

REUTERS

In President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and sanctuary cities, he calls for a weekly report on the crimes committed by immigrants in protected cities. However, data does not support his narrative that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.  


According to the order, "the [secretary of homeland security] shall utilize the Declined Detainer Outcome Report or its equivalent and, on a weekly basis, make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens."

But the data to support Trump's desire to paint undocumented immigrants as being dangerous or more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans does not exist.

A 2015 study by the American Immigration Council found that not only are immigrants less likely to commit serious crimes or be incarcerated than native-born residents, but high rates of immigration correlate with even lower rates of violent and property crimes. 

According to the report, "roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.

 "This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses," the authors note. "In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants."

In fact, as the immigrant population has increased over the years, rates of violent crime have decreased. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants went from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

"During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder," the study states. "Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent."

The pattern held true over a period of time and spanned cities nationally — particularly in cities that have been welcoming to the immigrant population.

"Some scholars suggest that new immigrants may revitalize dilapidated urban areas, ultimately reducing violent crime rates," the researchers state.

"In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not 'criminal' by any commonly accepted definition of the term," the researchers sum up. "For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime."

Conservative outlets have pointed to data indicating otherwise, including Breitbart, which in 2015 ran an article with the headline, "Illegal Immigrants Accounted for Nearly 37 Percent of Federal Sentences in FY 2014." The article points to federal crime data, which showed that undocumented immigrants accounted for 36.7 percent of those involved in federal sentences.

Data collected between October 2015 and September 2016 produced similar results, at which time noncitizens accounted for 41.7 percent of all federal offenders and committed 22.9 percent of murders.

However, federal crimes only account for a small sample of all crimes. In total, just 66,778 crimes were analyzed — and 83 murders. The FBI's "Crime in the United States, 2015," in contrast, reported a total of 15,696 murders during 2015. Therefore, the federal data accounts for about 0.53 percent of the total.

Additionally, "undocumented immigrants are far more likely to be caught up in the federal court system because of non-violent immigration violations" — leaving for skewed data when looking for a national pattern.

In a 2015 interview Jessica Vaughn with the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative organization with a strict viewpoint on immigration, said that definitive data is hard to conclude, saying "what the research shows is that there's no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population.

"The studies that claim to find that immigrants are somehow more law-abiding than Americans are based on very flawed data, because that doesn't identify correctly necessarily what someone's immigration status is," she added.

But in some cases, the data to prove Trump's points simply does not exist. While on the campaign trail, Trump said, without providing evidence, "Thousands of Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants." His statement was analyzed by Politifact:

"Immigration experts told us Trump's statement is so vague it is bound to be true.

"Without time or geographic parameters, the statement is just as accurate as saying 'thousands of Americans have been killed by men,' said Charis E. Kubrin, a criminology professor at University of California, Irvine.

"'The rate of murder may be lower or higher than other groups, but when we are talking about people, violent crime is never zero,' said Steven Camarota, director of research at Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring strict immigration policies. 'By the same token it cannot be thousands every year. But adding up a few years then it has to be in the 'thousands.' There are a lot of murders in America and there are a lot illegal immigrants, so the statement has to be true.'"

Marc Rosenblum, from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, pointed to the same conclusion that the American Immigration Council reached in its report.

"You know, it's a very persistent stereotype, but there's a lot of research on it, looking at prison populations and looking at city crime rates," Rosenblum said. "And what it shows is that immigrants are disproportionately unlikely to be in prison. The prison population doesn't have a lot of immigrants in it. And when you look at crime rates and correlate them with immigration populations, immigrants are — cities with lots of immigrants don't have lots of crime."

Trump's knowledge on immigration in general does not align with national data. In another executive order the president referred to a "recent surge of illegal immigration at the southern border with Mexico."

However, the number of Mexican immigrants has been declining — down almost 10 percent between 2009 and 2014 — with immigrants from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa on the rise, according to the Pew Research Center's most recent estimates. In November, Pew estimated there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2014, accounting for 3.5 percent of the population, down from 12.2 million in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 1.3 million are from Asia.

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