Right Opinion

What the Media Won't Tell You About Illegal Immigration and Criminal Activity

Hans von Spakovsky · Mar. 14, 2017

Editor’s note: This piece is coauthored by Grant Strobl.

Normally, the ACLU promotes transparency in government and the ability of the public to access public records. But apparently that changes when transparency might reveal damaging information that hurts their opposition to President Trump’s common-sense, revised executive order temporarily suspending entry from six terrorist safe havens in the Middle East and Africa.

How else can one explain the ACLU’s criticism of a little-noticed provision in the executive order that requires the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to, among other things, report on the “number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women” in the U.S., like the “honor” killings committed by foreign nationals? That provision will also require public reporting on the number of foreign nationals charged/convicted of “terrorism-related offenses” or removed from the country for terrorism-related activities.

President Trump announced in his speech to Congress that the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office (VOICE) would help victims of crimes committed by aliens. There’s also a provision in his Jan. 25 executive order directing DHS to provide “a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens” on a weekly basis. Yet the Left and the media again made the claim that aliens commit less crime than native-born citizens and that the only “cruel” purpose of these actions is to “tag immigrants as criminals.”

According to a recent Associated Press article, “multiple studies have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born U.S. citizens.” But the issue isn’t non-citizens who are in this country legally, and who must abide by the law to avoid having their visas revoked or their application for citizenship refused. The real issue is the crimes committed by illegal aliens. And in that context, the claim is quite misleading, because the “multiple studies” on crimes committed by “immigrants” — including a 2014 study by a professor from the University of Massachusetts, which is the only one cited in the article — combine the crime rates of both citizens and non-citizens, legal and illegal.

That isn’t the only problem with the study. Instead of using official crime data, it uses “self-reported criminal offending and country of birth information.” For obvious reasons, there is little incentive for anyone, let alone criminal aliens, to self-report “delinquent and criminal involvement.” When it comes to self-reporting criminal activity, some respondents will, no doubt, exaggerate. Others will flat out lie. Furthermore, many respondents will likely not disclose if they are a non-citizen out of fear of discovery and deportation.

These claims overlook disturbing actual data on crimes committed by criminal aliens. For example, the Government Accountability Office released two unsettling reports in 2005 on criminal aliens who are in prison for committing crimes in the United States, and issued an updated report in 2011.

The first report (GAO-05-337R) found that criminal aliens (both legal and illegal) make up 27 percent of all federal prisoners. Yet according to the Center for Immigration Studies, non-citizens are only about nine percent of the nation’s adult population. Thus, judging by the numbers in federal prisons alone, non-citizens commit federal crimes at three times the rate of citizens.

The findings in the second report (GAO-05-646R) are even more disturbing. This report looked at the criminal histories of 55,322 aliens that “entered the country illegally and were still illegally in the country at the time of their incarceration in federal or state prison or local jail during fiscal year 2003.” Those 55,322 illegal aliens had been arrested 459,614 times, an average of 8.3 arrests per illegal alien, and had committed almost 700,000 criminal offenses, an average of roughly 12.7 offenses per illegal alien.

Out of all of the arrests, 12 percent were for violent crimes such as murder, robbery, assault and sex-related crimes; 15 percent were for burglary, larceny, theft and property damage; 24 percent were for drug offenses; and the remaining offenses were for DUI, fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, weapons, immigration, and obstruction of justice.

The 2011 GAO report wasn’t much different. It looked at 251,000 criminal aliens in federal, state, and local prisons and jails. Those aliens were arrested nearly 1.7 million times for close to three million criminal offenses. Sixty-eight percent of those in federal prison and 66 percent of those in state prisons were from Mexico. Their offenses ranged from homicide and kidnapping to drugs, burglary, and larceny.

Once again, these statistics are not fully representative of crimes committed by illegal aliens: This report only reflects the criminal histories of aliens who were in prison. If there were a way to include all crimes committed by criminal aliens, the numbers would likely be higher because prosecutors often will agree to drop criminal charges against an illegal alien if they are assured that immigration authorities will deport the alien.

The GAO reports also highlight another important flaw in the study referenced by the Associated Press. It uses survey data from a nationally representative sample of people living in the United States. Thus, the study does not take into account some potentially key factors highlighted in the GAO reports: that criminal aliens from Mexico disproportionately make up incarcerations (GAO-05-337R) and that most arrests are made in the three border states of California, Texas, and Arizona (GAO-05-646R and GAO-11-187).

One 2001 study that does take country of origin and geographic concentration factors into account found that Mexican immigrants “commit between 3.5 and 5 times as many crimes as the average native.” It also pointed out the large concentration of Mexican immigrants in the Southwest, which indicates that a nation-wide sample may not represent what is happening in states with a large concentration of criminal aliens.

Although there are no perfect measures of crimes committed by criminal aliens, it has certainly not been substantiated, as the Associated Press article states, that illegal aliens commit crimes at a lesser rate than either native-born or naturalized American citizens. In fact, existing data seems to show that the opposite is likely true.

But we do know one thing for sure. Every crime committed by an illegal alien is one that would not have occurred if that alien wasn’t in the United States in the first place. That includes the hundreds of thousands of crimes committed by the 55,322 illegal aliens in the GAO study who victimized countless numbers of Americans.

So despite the criticism from the ACLU and others, requiring the federal government to keep track of and regularly report on the victimization of Americans by illegal aliens is not only a good idea, it is something that the American people should demand.


Republished from The Heritage Foundation.

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