San Diego Local Community News

Undocumented Immigrants and Crime: The Real Facts
The influx of illegal immigrants from the southern border has been carrying on for decades, and recent economic unrest in countries like Venezuela means that more people will be crossing the US border through Mexico. President Trump has used harsh words to describe illegal immigrants, particularly those hailing from Mexico – calling them rapists among other unsavory terms. The idea that illicit people have insidious intentions upon reaching the Promised Land has been perpetuated for many years and even more so since the last election season.
Trump still puts forward that illegal immigrants peddle drugs like cocaine and commit atrocious crimes on innocent Americans, and this damaging rhetoric has worked well for his base. As the new campaign season unfolds, politicians – including the incumbent president – will be debating on reforming INS and what it means in curbing the alleged criminality. This damaging rhetoric plays into people’s fears, stereotypes about immigrants, and amplifying the bad for political ends.
What Does Research Deduce in this Predicament?
The CATO Institute, a public policy think tank, published a dossier countering misleading statements that associate aliens with rising levels of crime. The scholars who work for this research organization perform independent, nonpartisan studies on a variety of issues such as legal and illegal migration. By and large, findings from the American Community Survey deduced that immigrants have much lesser rates of imprisonment and lower incidences of crime in their residential areas. In the wake of 9/11, federal immigration commissions launched countrywide efforts to determine if unlawful immigrants have a propensity for crime as compared to native-born Americans.
These findings returned a resounding no, which proves politicians’ inclination to blame immigrants for nearly every problem is unjustifiable. They are consistent with what previous commissions like the 1994’s Barbara Jordan Commission and 1931 Wickersham Commission found concerning the likelihood of immigrants to engage in criminality. While these researchers looked into crime rates among all immigrants, the current debate concerns unlawful immigrants. Determining the crime rates among illegal immigrants is difficult due to the following reasons:

  • The American Community Survey did not distinguish between legal and undocumented inmates in correctional facilities, and many Criminal Attorneys can attest to this.
  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) keeps a record of unlawful immigrants who are in custody in state and national prisons, and this is difficult to draw comparisons. However, this data is flawed as non-citizens are less likely to be arrested for murder, perhaps due to underreporting.
  • Forty-nine (49) states have no record of the immigration status of people convicted of crimes including those in correctional facilities.

For a long time, these limitations have made it possible for politicians to peddle their loathing for unlawful immigrants saying they make the country unsafe, but now, fact checking is demanded to corroborate such statements.
Handling Things the Texas Way
Texas shares a border with Mexico and therefore has a vast population of immigrants. According to data from, there are 1,597,000 unauthorized persons in the state and 71% (1,144,000) hail from Mexico. The other aliens come from El Salvador (6%), Honduras (4%), Guatemala (2%), India (2%), and other places in that order. Other reports cite the number of undocumented immigrants in the country stands at 10.8 million, six (6) million of Mexican descent, while Texas is home to 1.68 million of this population. Nevertheless, these DHS figures could be inaccurate as undocumented people hesitate to fill out census forms in fear of being deported. Unlike other forty-nine (49) states, the state of Texas is doing an exceptional job of tracking the immigration statuses of jailed criminals and their corresponding criminal acts.
This conservative state prides itself in championing the implementation of criminal laws such as 2015’s federal immigration enforcement to curtail the influx of undocumented visitors. Such efforts notwithstanding, the conviction numbers for illegal immigrants are shockingly lower than native-born Americans, with lowest conviction rates for legal immigrants. Case in point, the conviction figures for sex crimes, murder, and robbery are well below that of criminals born inside US borders. Going by these figures, crime incidents in Texas appear low but spike when you factor in recidivism rates.
Varying Results on Immigration vs. Crime Rates
Other reports note crime rates dropped drastically between the mid-nineties and the early twenty-first century, a time when immigration from the southern border and elsewhere was flourishing. More so, the incarceration rates for men born in the US were found to be higher than that of immigrants, without differentiating between legal and unauthorized visitors. These reports essentially mean criminality among unlawful immigrants could be grossly underreported and most criminal attorneys concur.
Three (3) sociologists from Purdue sought to challenge this claim of relating illegal immigrants to higher levels of criminality. They reported that increased influx of undocumented immigrants does not correlate to increased levels of violent criminal activity, or drug-related crimes and drunken driving.
The CATO Institute appreciates that while numerous reports challenge the notion of unauthorized immigrants spiking criminal activity, people on the receiving end of these heinous acts at the hands of illegal people beg to differ. To these unlucky few, no crime report or news cycle can take away their grief or gnawing fear that someone could hurt them again. Nonetheless, reasoned thinking must prevail when it comes to reforming public policy.
What are the Economic Attitudes toward Immigrants?
Public opinion polls on how Americans view immigrants surmise that eighty-nine (89%) percent perceive them to be hard-working people who contribute significantly to the economy, thus challenging those accusing them of being lazy. More so, sixty (60%) percent of respondents reckon that immigrants add to the cultural melting pot that America is known to be since centuries past. However, these positive attitudes are countered by forty (40%) percent of survey participants who believe immigrants put undue stress on social services like health care and fifty-eight (58%) percent attribute spiked crime rates to unauthorized populations.
Quinnipiac Poll on Illegal Immigrants vs. Crime
As per a 2018 survey, a measly seventeen (17%) percent of participants surmised unauthorized immigrants engage in more criminal activity than native-born populations. What’s more, seventy-two (72%) percent of respondents derived that unlawful immigrants were responsible for significantly fewer crimes than people born in the US. Apart from changing attitudes to delegitimize Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants (mainly Mexicans), these findings could also be attributed to how crimes occur. Eighty (80%) percent of reported homicides where the perpetrator was undocumented indicated that said perpetrator knew the victim, which points to a trend of immigrants victimizing their own. Criminal attorneys who represent such clients are painfully familiar with this sad tale.
More nuanced data is desperately needed, but as things stand, it is safe to say that undocumented immigrants don’t pose a significant threat to our communities any more than native-born people. Other states need to emulate Texas’ methods of tracking down undocumented convicts and their crimes down to the smaller localities coupled with accurate and consistent reporting of data accumulated.
Do Unlawful Immigrants Commit Crime for Economic Pursuits?
In February 2018, new research found undocumented immigrants who are unable to find employment of any kind result to criminal activity to support their families in the US and back home. Expert researchers published this informative paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, based on The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). This law gave an estimated three (3) million undocumented immigrants legal resident status but presented new obstacles to securing work for immigrants who arrived after the amnesty period closed in 1988. Those who prevailed found more chances of economic mobility through better-paying jobs where employers could not dock wages without lending themselves to a criminal investigation.
IRCA was a double-edged sword in that undocumented immigrants faced harsh and immediate consequences such as constricted labor force opportunities as prospective employers avoid sanction fees. The researchers note that employer sanctions subsided in the 1990s and therefore, crime among the affected population dissipated in due course. However, recent studies indicate that employer sanctions are the most common means of curbing the flow of undocumented communities, which means people without gainful employment may turn to crime.
The government is accomplishing this aim through E-verify, the online platform for employers to authenticate a person’s eligibility for work, thus keeping unauthorized populations from formal employment. E-verify and other tactics used to undermine efforts of attaining legal status work well on the immigration front, but they have detrimental consequences on those already here. Some say it exacerbates the very problem it seeks to solve by allowing criminality to fester as the only way to support these families. On the other hand, public opinion appreciates the effectiveness of sanctions in discouraging undocumented visitors over offering them resident status after a while. Reinforcing border controls is the next best approach to stop this illegitimate human movement.
More Statistics on Immigrants and Criminality
As mentioned previously in this article, the exact figures of immigrants vary depending on who published the data but going by The Pew Research Center; undocumented people add up to 10.7 million (4% of the total population) as of 2019. Out of this number, The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rounded up 105,140 convicted felons in the fiscal year 2018, and it remains steadfast in the goal of hunting down “criminal aliens” for immediate apprehension and deportation. ICE is however accused of inflating criminal figures to suit the president’s agenda as they factor in minor traffic violations, therefore, misleading the public on crime levels attributed to so-called aliens.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) records 83,573 undocumented persons in correctional facilities, and this figure is below six (6%) percent of inmates around the country. Nonetheless, some states don’t indicate immigration status while others have inaccurate data so the actual numbers could be much higher than what BJS reports. As per immigration officials, an estimated one in five prisoners (21%) were born outside the US and an overwhelming majority came here through illegitimate means.
The vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress – Tom Jawetz – posed a rebuttal saying most inmates in federal custody are charged with unique crimes that wouldn’t apply to average citizens. For instance, only such persons can be charged with “unlawful entry” and unlawful reentry after deportation. Based on this simple fact, statistics on the incarceration of undocumented immigrants are overly skewed and therefore unreliable.
Should All States Emulate Arizona?
The state of Arizona is keen to crack down on young (15 – 35 years) undocumented immigrants found contravening the law. This population makes up just two (2%) percent of the state population. However, eight (8%) percent of those in custody and these younger minds are more susceptible to horrible criminal acts (e.g., rape, aggravated assault, and homicides) than their older counterparts. While Lott’s deductions were met with harsh criticism, his challengers – including The Washington Post’s Fact Checker – are yet to surface more solid claims.
Another study published in the Journal of Criminology examined data on crime and immigration between 1990 and 2014 and found that inside this quarter century, immigration has burgeoned while levels of violent crime have fallen. While this groundbreaking report points to a favorable conclusion, the authors surmise higher numbers of unlawful immigrants could also mean underreporting criminality to law enforcement. Therefore, as the debate on this hot button issue rages on, people should not separate data from their opinions.
How Do Undocumented Immigrants Affect Wages?
One of the unfavorable associations with unauthorized persons is taking away jobs from citizens, but this does not apply to everyone. For instance, upper class and middle-class people are not competing for the same job opportunities with undocumented – and possibly unskilled labor. In contrast, lower class people without a high school diploma are in direct competition with this cohort, which is more than happy to take any work available. Soaring demand for low-paying jobs undercuts lower class people’s income by roughly ten (10%) percent and hence the outrage about immigrants taking away jobs from deserving workers. This displacement notwithstanding, having more immigrants earning stimulates the economy as they spend money in restaurants, buy clothes, or to rent apartments.
The IRS initiative, Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), launched in 1996 makes it possible for undocumented workers to open bank accounts as they can present ITIN instead of Social Security Number. Some states issue driver’s license to these persons under the premise of helping them get insurance, thus making roads safer for everyone. Phone companies are much easier to deal with, so unlawful immigrants get situated pretty fast and start contributing economically in more ways than one.
Has the Presidential Rhetoric on Immigrants Changed?
President Trump is hell-bent on continuing to tie immigrants to criminal acts and in true fashion, he is not afraid of traffic racism and other prejudice to sell his border wall idea. By saying unlawful immigrants have viciously killed thousands of people, and these numbers are set to rise, he stokes fear in citizens, so they rally behind his agenda. This well-placed rhetoric comes in spite of numerous studies, as above, indicating no correlation between immigrants and rising crime rates throughout the nation. As if to belabor the point, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quoted saying that every incidence of crime carried out by an authorized person should have been averted.
Misleading rhetoric given by the president and other politicians seeking re-election has ramifications in not just how civilians perceive undocumented people but the criminal justice system. In the recent past, an economist published a study based in Arizona, showing these persons stand a 142% chance of being convicted as compared to other Arizona residents. What’s more, unlawful immigrants typically serve 10.5% longer sentences than other convicts, and they are 45% more likely to have gang affiliations, which further heightens the risk of violent transgressions. These trends may replicate in other immigrant hotspots like California, where criminal attorneys are faced with mounting cases of undocumented persons tangled with the law.
On May 23, the president was in Florida attending a campaign rally in Panama City Beach, where someone joked about shooting illegal immigrants at the border. The suggestion amused him then said, “only in the Panhandle!” could anyone get away with such statements, which was followed by applause from the audience. It appears the president’s voting base agree with virtually everything he says and more so when it comes to curbing the scourge of caravans making their way into the country. These diehard supporters brazenly make statements that challenge the very essence of being American, and their leader doesn’t care about saving face. His response this week echoes his remarks about Charlottesville in 2017 where he referred to neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “very fine people” to the chagrin of many.
Will Unlawful Immigration Ever Stop?
While there are plenty of legal means of coming to the US such as qualifying for a green card, getting a work permit, student visa, among other provisions, these government-led initiatives are not sufficient to cover the bulk of interested people. For example, the government issues 66,000 H-2B visas to nonagricultural workers year on year, and this permit expires after three (3) years and those who overstay their welcome automatically join the ranks of illegal immigrants.
Proximity to South America also plays a vital role. Hopefuls are only a treacherous journey away from reaching the land of endless opportunities and freedoms they have yearned for under tyrannical regimes and dwindling economies. Seeing the complexities of immigration, hoping for the influx of undocumented persons to stop seems like a pipe dream. This report, however, proves they yield more good deeds than criminality despite the ongoing crusade that is only poised to get worse as the campaign season goes into full swing.

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