Noncitizens, Immigrants and Crime

Observations

With 65,000 non-citizens incarcerated (it was 103,000 in 2012) and 178,000 undocumented immigrants deported last year who were convicted criminals, crime and illegal immigration are connected.

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that 1.9 million noncitizens have been convicted of criminal offenses and could be deported.

The unanswered question is the degree of an illegal immigrant-crime connection, and whether it’s worse than those correlations in America’s past.

Author

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Article

We have questions as to illegal immigrants and their involvement in crime and the justice system.

Illegal immigration and crime is a political football with people taking sides, and the issue is part of a pro or anti-Trump agenda. I will try to be fair to all sides while recognizing that impartiality will be difficult to achieve. I attempt to provide an answer and context.

Unreported Crime

Note that most crime in America is not reported and the non-reporting of crime seems especially prevalent among illegal and legal immigrants throughout American history. Two out of five reported crimes are solved thus there “could” be a considerable undercount of illegal or legal immigrant crime.

Incarceration

The most precise source of data comes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), US Department of Justice as to incarcerated non-citizens. A chart of non-citizen incarceration over time in federal and state prisons is at the bottom of this article.

There were 102,809 non-citizens incarcerated in the US in 2012 (the peak year) and 65,107 in 2016, for a reduction of 37,702. As always, there are definitional (interpretational) issues with BJS data.

The data roughly mimics the decline in overall incarceration in the US, regardless of participants.

Texas and Florida hold the most non-citizens (California reports none) with Arizona and New York following.

Note that large numbers of solved state crimes are not prosecuted, and most state felony convictions in the US are not sent to prison, regardless of the status of participants.

To my knowledge, beyond the specialized studies below, there are few additional sources of federal information as to non-citizen crime collected on a yearly basis beyond Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates and numbers. There is data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics as to federal crimes containing data on non-citizens, see Federal Crimes. For example, in 2014, 1 in 4 federally sentenced prisoners in the federal Bureau of Prisons were non-U.S. citizens.

Mexico is the Country’s Largest Source of Immigrants

I’m going to focus on Latin America while acknowledging that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, come to America from many additional countries.

There were 11.7 million immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. in 2014, and about half of them were in the country illegally, according to Pew Research Center estimates.

Mexico is the country’s largest source of immigrants, making up 28% of all U.S. immigrants. But more non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in fiscal year 2016 for the second time on record (the first was in fiscal 2014.) See Pew.

Mexican nationals made up 72% of noncitizens in federal prison at fiscal year end 2014. Mexican nationals in federal prison increased from 27,664 prisoners in 2004 to 36,837 in 2013 and decreased to 33,512 in 2014. Mexican nationals made up 72% of noncitizens in federal prison at fiscal year end 2014, up from 65% of noncitizens in prison in 2004, see Federal Arrests and Prosecutions.

Are Immigrants A Major Part of the Crime Problem?

It’s impossible to answer the question with precision but the overwhelming number of commentators suggest that immigrants are not a major component of America’s crime problem, see New York Times.

What About Violent Crime Problems in Central America?

Organized, violent crime in Mexico is legendary, see New York Times.

Latin America and the Caribbean make up just eight percent of the world’s population but are home to 31 percent of its homicides, see insightcrime.org/.

Thus we have significant differences between what commenters perceive as less crime by immigrants, and the massive problem with gangs, organized crime and violent acts that “could” be imported.

Gangs, immigrants and crime have always been part of the American fabric whether they be Irish, Jewish, Italian, Russian, Asian or from any other part of the globe.

MS 13 gang members have been a concern for decades, see insightcrime.org/.

Thus for those concerned about illegal immigration and the importation of additional violent crime, there is a basis for unease, see a recent article at Washington Post.

Additional resources are below and the reader is encouraged to review the data and to decide for themselves as to the degree of the illegal immigrant problem and crime.

CBS News

According to analysis of the 2010 census and the American Communities Survey done by the non-profit  American Immigration Council, immigrants to the United States are significantly less likely than native-born citizens to be incarcerated. The authors found that 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.

The divide was even sharper when the authors examined the incarceration rate among immigrant men the authors believe likely to be undocumented.

According to the analysis, these likely undocumented immigrants had an incarceration rate of 1.7 percent, compared with 10.7 percent for native-born men without a high school diploma.

This conclusion is no surprise to Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor at Boston University who has studied antisocial behavior like drug use, gambling and fighting in immigrant and non-immigrant populations.

“The evidence is really compelling that immigrants are involved in these behaviors at a far lower rate than native-born Americans,” Salas-Wright says.

A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2007 found that immigrants had incarceration rates about one-fifth that of native-born Americans, and that the difference actually increased between 1980 and 2000.

Source CBS

CNN News

11.2 million. That’s the latest estimate of the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. And it’s less than 4% of the total U.S. population.

The number peaked in 2007, according to Pew, when there were an estimated 12.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. But since 2009, it’s “remained essentially unchanged,” Pew reports, as the numbers of undocumented immigrants entering and leaving the United States “have come into rough balance.”

177,960. The number of undocumented immigrants deported last year who were convicted criminals, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That’s 56% of last year’s total number of deportations, according to ICE, and it’s a group that the agency says it’s putting first when it comes to deciding which cases to prioritize.

121.The number of people released from immigration custody who were later charged with murder between 2010 and 2014, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security cited in a recent letter from two U.S. senators.

73,665. The number of inmates in state and federal prisons who are not U.S. citizens, according to the latest prison population report from the Bureau of Judicial Statistics. That’s about 5% of the total prison population.

1 million. The number of so-called detainer requests issued by Immigration and Customs and Enforcement and sent to local authorities from 2008 to 2012, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

More than three-quarters of those were for immigrants who had no criminal convictions on their records. For the ones who’d been convicted, only 8.6% were charged with serious offenses, based on federal standards.

10,182. The number of ICE detainers state and local enforcement authorities declined to honor last year.

Source: CNN.

Conclusions

The consensus seems to be that immigrants or illegal immigrants are less involved in the justice system, but there are no peer-reviewed, systematic studies over time so we don’t have a firm answer to the question. Many of the studies cited are decades old or come from advocacy groups.

The best available yearly data are incarceration numbers from the US Department of Justice, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates and numbers. There is also data on federal crimes citing non-citizens, but the bulk of federal arrests take place in border states (focusing on immigration and drugs) thus the data is skewed, see Federal Crimes.

Criminology has studied immigrant-related (non-Central American) gangs and organized crime in the US in the past and their findings of subcultures of violence and intimidation are well documented. I assume that the issues with gangs or organized crime in Central America are also valid.

As stated, gangs, organized crime, immigrants and crime have always been part of the American fabric whether they be Irish, Jewish, Italian, Russian, Asian or from any other part of the globe.

Based on data and history, you could legitimately argue that illegal immigration and crime are valid concerns, and, at the same time, suggest that legal and illegal immigrants involvement in “reported” crime is less than non-immigrants.

With 65,000 non-citizens incarcerated (it was 103,000 in 2012) and 178,000 undocumented immigrants deported last year who were convicted criminals, crime and illegal immigration are connected.

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that 1.9 million noncitizens living in the United States — whether legally or illegally — have been convicted of criminal offenses and could be deported, New York Times.

The unanswered question is the degree of an illegal immigrant-crime connection, and whether it’s any worse than those correlations in America’s past.

Sources:

Source for incarceration data: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p15.pdf.

Additional federal criminal justice statistics, including data on non-citizens, are available at Federal Arrests and Prosecutions.

 

Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net

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