Politics & Policy

The Corner

Illegal Immigration and Crime

Conventional political wisdom holds that there will be some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors. The Obama administration’s original DACA memorandum applied to individuals who came to the United States before the age of 16, but where the line would be drawn in any permanent DACA deal remains unclear.

There are a number of familiar talking points surrounding this amnesty, which tend to give the impression that the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients are disproportionately valedictorians and Medal of Honor recipients. Amnesty proponents often extend these characterizations to illegal immigrants generally, claiming that they’re the “real Americans,” better, harder-working, and more law-abiding (with the exception of that pesky “illegal presence” thing) than native-born Americans.

DACA amnesty is merely the first of what will likely become many amnesties. The ink will not have dried on the bill before pro-amnesty organizations and politicians will begin agitating for amnesty for the parents of DACA recipients. Then we must have amnesty for illegal immigrants whose children are native-born U.S. citizens. After all, why should parents of DACA recipients receive legal status simply because their children were born in another country? If anything, the parents of U.S. citizens have a stronger claim to receive amnesty. Still more will be added through chain migration. On and on it will go.

Before we start down this road, then, we should grapple with some facts regarding illegal immigrants and crime. Unfortunately, almost every public official not named Jeff Sessions guards against disclosure of illegal-immigrant crime data more tenaciously than disclosure of nuclear launch codes. But in 2011, GAO conducted a study on criminal aliens incarcerated in state jails and prisons. According to GAO, in FY 2009 295,959 SCAAP criminal aliens, of whom approximately 227,600 are illegal aliens, were incarcerated in state jails and prisons. This is a 40 percent and 25 percent increase, respectively, in criminal-alien incarcerations in state jails and prisons since FY 2003.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) partially reimburses states and localities for the cost of incarcerating certain criminal aliens. It does not reimburse states and localities for the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens who are in the country legally. There are two types of criminal aliens for which SCAAP will reimburse the incarcerating authority: SCAAP illegal aliens, whom DHS has definitively determined are in the country illegally; and SCAAP unknown aliens, for whom DHS is unable to find a record, but who are probably in the country illegally.

In FY 2009, there were 295,959 SCAAP criminal aliens incarcerated in state and local jails and prisons. DOJ uses a reimbursement metric based on how many SCAAP unknown aliens are believed to be illegal aliens:

DOJ is to reimburse states for 65 percent, cities for 60 percent, and counties for 80 percent of correctional salary costs associated with unknown aliens. According to DOJ officials, this methodology was developed based on analysis that the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) conducted in 2000 where it analyzed the records of aliens submitted for SCAAP reimbursement in 1997 whose immigration status was at that time unknown. Based upon this analysis, INS determined that 65 percent of those unknown aliens submitted for reimbursement by states did not have legal status, 60 percent submitted for reimbursement by cities did not have legal status, and 80 percent submitted for reimbursement by counties did not have legal status.

Using DOJ’s metrics, it therefore appears that approximately 81,200 SCAAP criminal aliens incarcerated in state prisons, out of a possible 91,000 examined by GAO, were in the country illegally. Using those same metrics, approximately 146,400 to 175,200 SCAAP criminal aliens incarcerated in local jails, out of a possible 204,000 examined by GAO, were in the country illegally. (The range is because “local jails” are not differentiated into city and county jails, but DOJ believes that the percentage of illegal aliens within the SCAAP unknown alien group varies between the two.)

GAO examined five states that had large SCAAP illegal alien populations in 2008 – Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Arizona was the only state where traffic offenses were a substantial percentage of SCAAP illegal-alien convictions. Setting aside traffic offenses, 41 percent of the SCAAP illegal-alien convictions in Arizona were for drug offenses and assault. In California, “about 50 percent of California’s primary convictions related to SCAAP illegal aliens were for drugs, assault, and sex offenses.” Texas had a similar breakdown of SCAAP illegal-alien offenses. In Florida, “about 50 percent of all Florida state convictions of SCAAP illegal alien inmates were for drugs, sex offenses, burglary, and robbery.” And, shockingly, in New York, 27 percent of SCAAP illegal-alien primary convictions were for homicide – more than the 23 percent convicted for drug-related offenses. Below, homicide-related offenses are disaggregated by state.

‐ Arizona: About 240 illegal aliens were imprisoned for homicide-related offenses. In 2009 there were 3,484 total inmates incarcerated in Arizona state prisons for homicide and related offenses (first degree murder, second degree murder, murder (old code), manslaughter, and negligent homicide). Removing the estimated 240 illegal aliens from that total leaves us with 3,244 citizens and legal residents imprisoned for homicide-related offenses out of a total population of approximately 6.3 million residents. The Pew Research Center estimates that approximately 350,000 illegal immigrants lived in Arizona in 2009. That leaves approximately 6 million citizens and legal residents in Arizona. This yields a rate of 68.57 illegal aliens imprisoned for homicide offenses per 100,000 illegal aliens in Arizona, and 54.06 citizens and legal residents imprisoned for homicide offenses per 100,000 citizens and legal residents in Arizona. It should be noted, however, that a study by John Lott, using more recent and comprehensive state data, found that illegal immigrants are far more likely to commit crimes than lawful residents.

‐ California: In California, there were 28,030 inmates incarcerated for homicide and related offenses (first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter) in December 2009. Using GAO’s 2008 estimate, there were approximately 2,430 illegal aliens imprisoned in California for homicide and related offenses. The total population of California was approximately 37 million, and the illegal alien population was approximately 2.5 million. Applying the same analysis as above, this yields an estimated rate of 97.2 illegal aliens imprisoned for homicide and related offenses per 100,000 illegal aliens, and 74.1 citizens and legal residents imprisoned for homicide and related offenses per 100,000 citizens and legal residents.

‐ Florida: Florida incarcerated 12,684 inmates for murder and manslaughter offenses in 2008–2009. Approximately 480 were illegal aliens. The total population of Florida was approximately 18.8 million and the illegal alien population was approximately 875,000. This yields an estimated rate of 54.85 illegal aliens imprisoned for murder and manslaughter per 100,000 illegal aliens, and 67.8 legal residents imprisoned for murder and manslaughter per 100,000 legal residents.

‐ New York: At the beginning of 2010, there were 10,254 prisoners incarcerated in New York for murder and manslaughter offenses (murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, other homicide). Approximately 1,350 were illegal aliens. The total population of New York was approximately 19.3 million, and the illegal alien population was approximately 800,000. This yields an estimated rate of 168.75 illegal aliens incarcerated for murder and related offenses per 100,000 illegal aliens, and 48.12 legal residents incarcerated for murder and related offenses per 100,000 legal residents.

‐ Texas: In Texas in 2008–2009, 16,178 people were incarcerated for homicide. Approximately 900 of them were illegal aliens. The total population of Texas was roughly 25 million, and the illegal alien population was roughly 1.65 million. This yields a rate of 54.54 illegal aliens incarcerated for homicide per 100,000 illegal aliens, and 65.43 legal residents incarcerated for homicide per 100,000 legal residents.

‐ Taking the data only from these five states, and assuming that each person incarcerated for a homicide-related offense is responsible for only one death, yields 5,400 people killed by illegal aliens.

There are studies that suggest that illegal immigrants as a group are less prone to crime than native-born Americans. I’m skeptical of these studies, even when not including immigration-related offenses. But the point is broader than that. The media portrays illegal immigration as a victimless phenomenon, as benign as the coming of spring and as impossible to forestall. But that’s untrue. Any amnesty will act as a magnet for future illegal immigration. We should consider the consequences of encouraging illegal immigration, and with it, more crime.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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