The talking point that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than naturalized American citizens is everywhere. It’s hard to find much dissent from the counterintuitive and bogus narrative.
Those making the claim have found themselves some support from the libertarian right. An oft-cited paper from the Cato Institute found that illegal immigrants make up 6.4% of Texas’ population, but only 5% of their prison population (and thus, they must commit fewer crimes). That conflicts with US Census data from 2011 to 2015 shows that noncitizens are 7% more likely than the US population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities.
Trump's demonization of Latinos is racist, it’s wrong and it also happens to be factually inaccurate. Undocumented Latino immigrants commit fewer crimes in America than the general public.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 9, 2019
— Kat Timpf (@KatTimpf) December 28, 2018
The explanation can be reduced to sampling bias.
Cato isn’t taking into account the fact that the post-prison life of native-born American prisons and illegals is radically different, so you can’t infer that illegal aliens are less criminal even if they may be underrepresented in prisons at a particular point in time.
A native-born criminal will be re-released into American society after serving time, where an illegal will be deported.
In America the average convict released has 3.9 prior convictions (excluding convictions that didn’t result in jail time). Because illegal immigrants will simply be deported at the end of their sentence (or be deported in lieu of other punishment), the chance of them re-offending is essentially zero (unless they’re to reenter the US). As James Agresti notes:
Department of Justice data reveals that in the decade ending in 2015, the U.S. deported at least 1.5 million noncitizens who were convicted of committing crimes in the U.S. (Table 41). This amounts to 10 times the number of noncitizens in U.S. adult correctional facilities during 2015.
A more accurate claim is thus; after deporting millions of criminal illegal aliens, illegal aliens commit fewer crimes at a statistical category. We could flip the stats if we were allowed to deport our criminals to Canada.
There could also be severe underreporting in illegal immigrant crime that’s committed against other illegals. If most white people in America are killed by other white people, and most blacks killed by other blacks, would it be a stretch to assume that illegals disproportionately commit crimes against other illegals? This is speculative – but unquestionably makes up a chunk of illegal immigrant crimes that go unreported.
Perhaps that won’t be the case for illegals living in sanctuary cities – which brings me to another factor that naturally leads to underreporting of illegal immigrant crimes. Over 61% of illegal aliens live in just twenty sanctuary cities (compared to 36 % of the overall population that lives in those same cities).
In 2015, 46% of the violent crimes and 19% of the property crimes reported to police in the US were cleared, according to FBI data. In sanctuary cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, only about a third of violent crimes are cleared. In the areas that most illegal immigrant crimes would occur, crimes are solved at a lower rate than the national average.
While illegal aliens do commit more crimes than native-born Americans, it shouldn’t matter to you if they committed crimes at a lower rate. Suppose for the sake of a thought experiment that there was a city of one million people, and an additional one million illegals began living in the city.
For the sake of this thought experiment, natives are victimized at a rate 85% higher than they were before the influx of illegals, due to increased crime from the illegal share of the population.
But at the same time, the population of the city increased by 100%, meaning there would be simultaneously more native victims of crime and yet the crime statistics would decrease on a per capita basis.
It’s worth asking whether victims will notice (or find comfort in knowing) that they were technically being victimized at a lower statistical rate. That seems unlikely.
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