The Corner

Politics & Policy

DACA-Eligible Immigrants and Crime

In response to The Truth-Teller

In a recent post, I presented statistics regarding the number of illegal aliens incarcerated for homicide-related offenses. I examined homicide statistics because individuals convicted of homicide will be incarcerated in state prisons and statistics for state prisons are readily available, whereas individuals convicted of lesser crimes might be incarcerated in local jails. It is, of course, possible that even though illegal immigrants are overrepresented among homicide offenders, they may be underrepresented among other types of offenders.

John Lott recently published a study that examines the incarceration of illegal immigrants in Arizona. Lott found that over the past 33 years, illegal immigrants have constituted an average of 4.8 percent of Arizona’s population. Yet during that same 33-year period, illegal immigrants constituted 11.2 percent of those convicted of crimes in Arizona — more than twice their share of the population. Lott found that illegal immigrants were dramatically more likely to be convicted of a homicide-related offense than either native-born Americans or legal immigrants during that 33-year period — 163 percent more likely to be convicted of first-degree murder and 168 percent more likely to be convicted of second-degree murder. “Undocumented immigrants were also consistently more likely to be convicted of manslaughter, armed robbery, sexual assault of a minor, sexual assault, DUI or DWI, and kidnapping.”

Lott also found that illegal immigrants who met the age requirements for DACA were overrepresented in the prison population. Lott writes:

We calculate shares of the prison population based on the age at which the criminal entered prison. So undocumented immigrants between 15 and 35 make up 2.27% of the total population and 7.94% of convicts. While the legal population between 15 and 35 represents 26.7% of the total population, they account for just 54.7% of the legal population in prison. Young undocumented immigrants make up a 71% greater share of their group’s share of the prison population relative to their group’s share of the general population than the same ratio for legal residents. . . . 

Unfortunately, if the goal of DACA is to give citizenship to a particularly law-abiding group of undocumented immigrants, it is accomplishing the opposite of what was intended. As Table 8 in the paper shows, DACA age eligible undocumented immigrants are 250 percent more likely to be convicted of crimes than their share of the population. Those too old for DACA status are convicted at relatively low rates (45.7 percent more than their share of the Arizona population).

At first glance, this may seem unimportant, since individuals who had been convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors, or a serious misdemeanor were ineligible for DACA. Lott suggests, however, that these statistics are likely a lower bound of the actual level of criminality among the illegal-immigrant population. Many crimes are never reported to the police and illegal immigrants likely commit many crimes against fellow illegal immigrants who may be reluctant to report such crimes to the authorities or appear as witnesses at trial even if the offenses are reported. If, as Lott’s research suggests, illegal immigrants commit more crimes at younger ages than native-born Americans and legal immigrants, illegal immigrants who are in the DACA age cohort are more likely than other individuals to have committed crimes for which they were not convicted. And the DACA screening process has been criticized for being lax in determining whether an individual has been convicted of a crime.

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

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