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Undocumented Immigrants and Crime: The Real Facts
In most debates over immigration policy, the primary and most common question that heats the debate is whether undocumented immigrants increase crime rates or not.
The federal government regulates immigration through the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which passed rules for immigration in 1952. During Trump’s campaign, his primary focus was to handle issues of illegal immigration in the US. Now that he’s in power, he’s working to implement these focal points of his campaign that involves dealing with unlawful/undocumented immigrants in the country.
In Trump’s 2015 campaign, he argued that undocumented immigrants are responsible for most rape cases and drug trafficking in the US, primarily through the Mexican border. However, it’s a bit overwhelming to determine if it’s the undocumented immigrants who cause most crimes or if it’s every immigrant since some of the states in the US do not keep records of incarcerated immigrants. This makes it hard to determine if undocumented immigrants cause more crimes in the US than natives without prior extensive research. This article will highlight the relationship between undocumented/illegal immigrants and crime in the United States based on research reports such as the Marshall Project and the Cato Institute report.
Who are Undocumented Immigrants?
One can be regarded as an undocumented/illegal immigrant in the US under two legal circumstances, either through an improper entry or unlawful presence. Below are definitions of these terms.

  • Improper entry

Improper entry is the main crime associated with undocumented/illegal immigration in the country. According to the federal immigration law, it’s a misdemeanor for a non-citizen/ alien to do either of the following:

  1. Elude or avoid inspection and examination by immigration officers
  1. Try to enter the United States at any place or time without going through the designated locations/areas
  1. Obtain entry or enter the United States through false representation of material facts or by willful concealing

Under federal immigration law, one who violates these rules can be punished by civil penalties of about $250 and six-month incarceration for each illegal entry. Just like any other criminal case in the country, for the perpetrator to be convicted, there must be concrete evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, when you find yourself involved in such charges, it’s always wise to seek the services of a Criminal Defense Lawyer to know your rights and have legal representation.

  • Unlawful presence

The majority of people assume that most of the aliens in the US without legal status have committed improper entry, which is untrue. Some immigrants who are undocumented in the United States are here legally on a valid work or through a travel visa; however, they fail to leave the country before their travel visa expires, hence making them undocumented immigrants. However, unlawful presence in the country is not a crime but is nevertheless punished by federal civil laws.
Violation of federal immigration laws to remain in the United States without proper legal authorization is punishable by civil penalties. An unlawful immigrant can be detained and deported from the country. After deportation for such civil offense, it can have negative consequences on the victim if they try to re-enter the country again later or seek permanent residency.
The Correlation Between Undocumented Immigration and Crime
Research has been conducted to understand the relationship between undocumented immigration and crime. Below are some examples of studies that have tried to explain this relationship in the country:
The Marshall Project
According to The Marshall Project Report, analysis from the data collected proves that the rise of undocumented immigrants does not lead to an increase in crime rates. Pew Research Center released estimates of illegal immigrants sorted by the metro area which the Marshall Project uses with the data published by the FBI on property crime and violent crime to assess the impact of an undocumented/illegal immigrant on the overall national crime. This, therefore, gives a broader analysis of how illegal immigration might have affected the rate of crime since 2007.
According to the graph of crime analysis across metro areas between 2007 and 2016, it’s seen that changes in violent crime were flat within that period. Property crime, on the other hand, decreased slightly within 2007 and 2016 as per the same graph of crime analysis among undocumented immigrants. Regardless of whether an area’s population of undocumented immigrants rose or fell, the crime rates remained the same. Areas with more unauthorized immigrants happened to have lesser crime rates; however, the difference was somewhat small and uncertain, according to the Marshall Project report. It’s important to note that illegal immigration can lead to civil or criminal penalties depending on whether you crossed the border illegally without authorization, or you overstayed your visa after expiry.
The Marshall Project went ahead to cite other research studies that found similar results in support of this research, such as the Cato Institute report.
Cato Institute Report
According to the Cato Institute Report, undocumented immigrants in Texas have fewer crime rates compared to their native counterparts. Unlike other states in the US, Texas is the only state that keeps records of undocumented immigrants who are convicted, specifying crimes that each person committed. This makes Texas a great state to study the relationship between illegal immigrants and crime because the data is available. It’s also a comfortable area to study because it borders Mexico and has the highest number of undocumented immigrants.
Texas is also a politically conservative state, which is governed by Republicans. Texas has a credible reputation in enforcing criminal laws, especially against undocumented immigrants than any other state in America, without influence in age ethnicity, education, or any other characteristics.
The state of Texas undocumented immigrant conviction rate is almost half of the convicted American natives. Compared to native-born Americans, conviction rates for crimes such as larceny, homicide, and sex crimes are less with undocumented immigrants as per Cato’s research.
Another research study by the Cato Institute also found that undocumented immigrants have fewer chances of being incarcerated.
Academic Journal on the State-level Analysis on Criminology
In this analysis, it’s evident that undocumented immigrants did not increase violent crimes in the US, but in fact, a slight decrease in crime rates instead is witnessed. Preliminary findings show that other socio-economic factors such as housing instability, unemployment rates, and economic hardship measures all contribute to higher rates of crimes, whereas illegal immigrant populations do not.
Although undocumented immigrants are known to commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, there is a significant concern on whether these undocumented immigrants put pressure on available job opportunities, hence, causing competition for jobs that indirectly leads to crimes and other negative impacts.
In respect to Adelman and his team research, the impacts of overall immigrants and undocumented immigrants are similar to job competition. Although they bring cultural and economic benefits to the American communities, they all typically come here for the same purpose of finding job opportunities and not to commit crimes, as per a member of the team.
Generally, as evident in the above research from different scholars, crime rates in the United States are not influenced by matters of whether someone is a legal immigrant or an illegal/undocumented immigrant. However, when you’re an undocumented immigrant and found guilty of any crime in the United States, it is always wise to seek services of a Criminal Defense Lawyer to get insight of the law and to avoid unnecessary charges or possible deportation.
Factors That Make Measuring of Undocumented/Illegal Immigrant Crime Rates Challenging
Despite the few studies conducted on the correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime rates, there are still substantial hurdles that limit research on the issue, as follows:

  1. The American Survey Community does not inquire which inmates in various correctional facilities in the United States are undocumented immigrants except in Texas, where the laws are a bit strict.
  1. Federal data on the number of incarcerated undocumented immigrants at the local level and the state level is recorded through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which cannot be compared to any other measures of inmates because it’s a combination of stock and flow of illegal immigrants.
  1. 49 States in America do not keep records or track immigration statuses of those who are incarcerated or convicted excluding Texas whose immigration laws are strict due to the high rate of illegal/undocumented immigrants from neighboring countries such as Mexico.

Undocumented Immigration Has No Direct Impact on Crime Rates in The US
Although there is no causal relationship between undocumented immigrants and crime, being an illegal immigrant itself is a federal offense in the United States. Violators can face some heavy civil penalties, which can also have a long term effect on the person in the future if they try to seek re-entry in the country after deportation. There are skewed beliefs that you are likely to be involved in crimes as an illegal immigrant, but this is not true. Therefore, you need to understand your rights as an immigrant and how to seek legal help from a Criminal Defense Lawyer if you face any charges that could affect your immigration rights.

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