Illegal Immigrants Are Far More Likely to Commit Serious Crimes Than the U.S. Public
By James D. Agresti
June 29, 2018
President Trump recently held a conference with family members of U.S. citizens killed by illegal immigrants. The parents of nine people slain by such immigrants spoke about their family’s experiences, and Trump presented an array of government data on criminal immigrants and stated:
I always hear that, “Oh, no, the population is safer than the people that live in the country.” You’ve heard that, fellas. Right? You’ve heard that. I hear it so much. And I say, “Is that possible?” The answer is it’s not true.
In response, the Associated Press published a “fact check“ claiming that illegal immigrants are more law-abiding than the general public. Various media outlets, such as the New York Times, Yahoo!, and a number of NBC affiliates published this article. The Washington Post ran a similar story, and other media outlets and so-called fact checkers have made similar claims in the past.
The truth, however, is that comprehensive, straightforward facts from primary sources—namely the Obama administration Census Bureau and Department of Justice—prove that illegal immigrants are far more likely to commit serious crimes than the U.S. population. Studies that claim otherwise typically suffer from fallacies condemned by academic publications about how to accurately analyze data.
The Most Concrete Facts
Data on illegal immigration and crime is often clouded, precisely because these are unlawful activities where perpetrators seek to hide their actions. Also, governments sometimes fail to record or release information that could be or has been obtained. The Obama administration, in particular, refused to release the names of convicted immigrant sex offenders and hid other details about crimes committed by immigrants.
Nonetheless, a combination of three material facts sheds enough light on this issue to draw some firm conclusions.
First, U.S. Census data from 2011 to 2015 shows that noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities. This alone debunks the common media narrative, but it only scratches the surface of serious criminality by illegal immigrants.
Second, Department of Justice data reveals that in the decade ending in 2015, the U.S. deported at least 1.5 million noncitizens who were convicted of committing crimes in the U.S. (Table 41). This amounts to 10 times the number of noncitizens in U.S. adult correctional facilities during 2015.
Third, Department of Justice data shows that convicts released from prison have an average of 3.9 prior convictions, not including convictions that led to their imprisonment (Table 5). This means that people in prison are often repeat offenders—but as shown by the previous fact, masses of convicted criminals have been deported, making it hard for them to reoffend and end up in a U.S. prison.
In other words, even after deporting 10 times more noncitizens convicted of crimes than are in U.S. prisons and jails, they are still 7% more likely to be incarcerated than the general public. This indicates a level of criminality that is multiplicatively higher than the U.S. population.
Furthermore, roughly half of noncitizens are in the U.S. legally, and legal immigrants rarely commit crimes. This is because U.S. immigration laws are designed to keep criminals out. Thus, the vast majority of incarcerated noncitizens are doubtlessly illegal immigrants. If legal immigrants were removed from the equation, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants would probably be about twice as high as for all noncitizens.
On the other hand, there is uncertainty about the exact number of noncitizens in the U.S., and Census figures are almost surely low. Hence, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants is likely not twice as high as the U.S. population. Nevertheless, this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the U.S. continually deports massive numbers of illegal immigrant convicts.
According to the AP, one of the supposed reasons why Trump is wrong is that “Ruben Rumbaut, a University of California, Irvine sociology professor, co-authored a recent study that noted crime rates fell sharply from 1990 to 2015 at a time when illegal immigration spiked.” This study is a quintessential example of data misuse, because it confuses association with causation and cherry picks a timeframe that creates a misleading impression.
Per the study:
Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder.
Such data reveals nothing about the effects of illegal immigrants on crime, because as explained in a textbook about analyzing data:
Association is not the same as causation. This issue is a persistent problem in empirical analysis in the social sciences. Often the investigator will plot two variables and use the tight relationship obtained to draw absolutely ridiculous or completely erroneous conclusions. Because we so often confuse association and causation, it is extremely easy to be convinced that a tight relationship between two variables means that one is causing the other. This is simply not true.
Numerous other academic writings say the same, and this basic fact is taught in high school statistics. For example, the Common Core math standards require students to “distinguish between correlation and causation.” Yet, Rumbaut and two other PhDs authored this flawed study, and the AP and PolitiFact uncritically quoted it.
The Rumbaut study has another major problem, because it cherry picks a timeframe that diverges from the larger picture. Contrary to its narrative that growing numbers of immigrants during 1990–2013 caused crime to fall, the number of immigrants also grew during the 1970s and 1980s, but during this time, the homicide rate rose, fell, and rose again:
In the words of another academic book about data analysis:
One of the worst abuses of analytics is to cherry pick results. Cherry pickers tout analysis findings when the results serve the purpose at hand. But, they ignore the findings when the results conflict with the original plan.
The AP also cited another study that suffers from much the same shortcomings. Published in the journal Criminology, it examines state-level data from 1990–2014 and finds that “increases in the undocumented immigrant population within states are associated with significant decreases in the prevalence of violence.” Besides using a timeframe when crime fell sharply, these statistics are merely associations, and the authors admit “they are hardly conclusive.”
Thus, they take their study further by using a statistical technique called a “regression” to control for factors besides immigration that could affect crime rates. Based on this, they find that “undocumented immigration over this period is generally associated with decreasing violent crime.”
Again, this is just an association, and it does not show that illegal immigration reduced crime, because other factors are undoubtedly at play. As detailed in a book about regressions, they share “an additional problem with all methods of statistical control,” because “there’s no way that we can measure all the variables that might conceivably affect” an outcome.
In this case, the outcome is general crime levels, and their causes are notoriously difficult to identify. In the words of an Oxford University Press textbook on criminology, this is “because there are simply too many unknowns and unmeasured dark figures of crime and explanation to enable us to draw valid and reliable conclusions from research.”
Moreover, illegal immigrants comprise only 4% of the total U.S. population in this study. Yet, the study seeks to determine their criminality by measuring total crime rates for the entire populations of the states. That is beyond far-fetched, because even small changes in crime among the other 96% of the population could easily overwhelm any effects from illegal immigrants.
In sum, these studies don’t prove anything about the criminality of unauthorized immigrants. As obvious as it sounds, this needs to be said: To measure the criminality of illegal immigrants, one must actually measure their criminality or a valid proxy for it. These studies do not do that.
The AP also cited a study from the “libertarian think tank Cato Institute“ as evidence that “people here illegally are less likely to commit crime than U.S. citizens,” but the study is a classic example of one that misleads by ignoring relevant facts.
The study, conducted by Cato policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, examines arrests and convictions of illegal immigrants in the state of Texas. Unlike sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to record and/or publish such information, Texas collects and makes this data publicly available. By using this data and immigrant population estimates, the study finds that in 2015, the conviction rates of illegal immigrants in Texas for:
- homicide were 25% below that of native-born Americans.
- sexual assault and larceny were 11.5% below that of U.S. natives.
- all criminal acts were 56% below that of U.S. natives.
In isolation, these statistics vastly understate the criminality of illegal immigrants—first and foremost—because they fail to account for the fact that hordes of criminal immigrants are constantly deported. This is especially relevant when it comes to crimes like murder, in which the vast bulk of perpetrators have previous criminal records. For example:
- in New York City from 2003 to 2005, more than 90% of the known killers were people with criminal records.
- in Baltimore during 2015, 77% of murder suspects had prior criminal records, and the average suspect had been previously arrested more than nine times.
These facts have even greater importance in a state like Texas, which readily cooperates with the Department of Homeland Security to deport criminal immigrants. As a participant in the Department’s Priority Enforcement Program, Texas investigates the immigration status of all arrestees and helps immigration authorities “take custody of individuals who pose a danger to public safety before those individuals are released into our communities.”
In Texas, there’s almost no chance that illegal immigrants could be arrested nine times and still be in the state and on the loose. In all likelihood, they would either be deported or locked up long before then. This would explain why the murder rate for illegal immigrants who remain in Texas is lower than that of U.S. natives.
This also may be why Cato finds relatively low overall conviction rates for illegal immigrants in Texas—while nationwide—the Congressional Research Service reports that the incarceration rate for noncitizens has “corresponded closely to that of noncitizens in the U.S. population….” Again, since roughly half of noncitizens are in the U.S. legally, and legal immigrants tend to be very law-abiding, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants is probably about twice as high as for all noncitizens.
Also, unauthorized immigrants are more apt to literally get away with murder than the general population. This is because murders committed by minorities are less likely to be solved. In the sanctuary city of Chicago, for example, the portion of murders that resulted in a suspect being identified and acted upon by the criminal justice system was 19% in 2016, as compared to a nationwide average of 59%.
On top of this, information from the Social Security Administration and other sources shows that most illegal immigrants engage in identity fraud. This is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
All of this proves that illegal immigrants have much greater levels of serious criminality than their arrest and conviction rates indicate. Those metrics only tell part of the story, particularly in a state like Texas that consistently works with the Department of Homeland Security to deport criminal immigrants.
Beyond the fallacies in this AP “fact check,” various journalists and scholars have misled the public about this issue by using bait-and-switch tactics and statistical techniques that are inappropriate to the data. Per another book about data analysis, “Statistical analysis is very easy to misuse and misinterpret. Any method of analysis used, whenever applied to data, will provide a result, and all statistical results look authoritative.”
When it comes to illegal immigration and crime, media outlets often lavish attention on fatally flawed studies while ignoring straightforward, comprehensive, and rigorously documented facts about this issue. Such facts show that Trump is correct on this point. Illegal immigrants are much more likely to commit serious crimes than the general public.
However, the opposite is true when it comes to legal immigrants, especially those who become U.S. citizens. They are 79% less likely than the general public to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities. In this case, deportations are not a factor, because immigrants who become citizens generally cannot be deported unless they are stripped of their citizenship, which is a rare occurrence.
There’s good reason why immigrant citizens are so law-abiding. To become U.S. citizens, they must pass a full FBI background check, demonstrate they have good moral character, show they will not be a financial burden on taxpayers, and take a public oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution. Illegal immigrants avoid such vetting, and this allows masses of criminals to enter the U.S.
But that’s different than the narrative we want to put out there, damn it!
The left blends the propensity for crime of very law-abiding LEGAL immigrants with the far less law abiding ILLEGAL immigrants to make the case that “immigrants” commit less crime. In any case, illegal aliens are killing Americans. Here are 115 dead Americans killed by an illegal alien. Unfortunately, there are many, many more.
This article is way too complicated and obtuse to be much use in countering the current narrative. Getting sidetracked into a discussion of statistical misuse simply makes people’s eyes glaze over. This article really did not do much for bringing clarity to the issue. It appears it is not really based on any independent research of actual crime rates vis a vis the illegal immigrant community. Further, the issue is kind of irrelevant. The fact is that criminal aliens are here because of open borders and lack of enforcement. The causation between high numbers of illegal immigrants and criminal alien crime is the same. Failure of the government to enforce the laws of the land. As such, we have hundreds of thousands of crimes and tens of thousands of homicides that were avoidable but for this failure.
One tidbit that is helpful if elaborated upon is the low level closure rate on homicides in low income minority community which nationwide is about 35%. And, the fact that many criminals are simply deported. Using the low level of closure and using the 25,000 homicide incarcerations reported in the 2011 GAO’s Criminal Alien Statistics Report it might be possible to project a range of say, 25,000 to 75,000 total potentially avoidable homicides due to open borders. Even this report by the GAO appears to be purposely opaque. But, the data is out there most likely in SCAAP (federal reimbursements for incarcerating criminal aliens) data.
Sorry, but comprehensive, straightforward, and rigorously documented facts rarely fit on bumper stickers. Understanding details is the often price we must pay for being informed instead of indoctrinated.
Furthermore, partisans on opposing sides of this issue continuously cite conflicting studies, which does little to advance the truth. This is why it is important for people to understand the flaws in such studies.
Sadly, most people care not the spend the time necessary to learn the truth. They will ignorantly parrot anything they want to be true, even if it is provably false. This is the lazy minded populace we have to try to inform.
Just one question — in looking at incarceration rates of illegal aliens, did you factor out or include crimes strictly related to their immigration status, i.e., individuals incarcerated pending adjudication or deportation whose “crime” is being an undocumented immigrant?
Good question. The incarceration rates are strictly for convicts in correctional institutions, so they don’t include immigrants who were incarcerated pending adjudication or deportation.
There may be some immigrants in correctional institutions strictly for immigration offenses, but such cases are rare, because the government typically does not imprison people just for illegal entry, and unlawful presence in the U.S. is generally a civil violation that cannot result in a prison sentence or criminal conviction. Instead, the government merely returns or removes these people to their homelands.
If any individuals are in correctional institutions just for breaking immigration laws, they would be in federal prisons, because these are federal laws. Only about 15% of all non-citizen inmates are in federal prisons, and per the U.S. Department of Justice, these convicts have:
Excellent and thoughtful examination of the subject. I have been drinking the Cato Kool-Aid on this subject. You opened my eyes.
We need for your group to take another step: write this in the shortest, most rememberable phrasing. This would help get the correct word out.
Stop saying “illegal immigrants” – it is illegal alien you dolt.
Per the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, an “immigrant” is “a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.” An “illegal immigrant” is someone who does that illegally. This is a descriptive, straightforward, and accurate term.
Per U.S. Code Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter I, Section 1101: “The term ‘alien’ means any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” This is different than “immigrant,” because it includes foreigners who are temporarily visiting the U.S., and it excludes immigrants who have become citizens.
this is terribly incorrect, purposefully misleading and a pretty good example of bad statistics. of several egregious errors, here are some of the most notable:
1. you claim that “U.S. Census data from 2011 to 2015 shows that noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities” and that “this alone debunks the common media narrative [that immigrants are less prone to crime than native born citizens].” This is obviously untrue; you are comparing two populations that are incarcerated for different reasons. Whereas incarceration is a strong indicator of having committed a crime for native born americans, incarceration for the “foreign born” group that you use to compare to native born americans can be either As someone with an interest (if not an expertise) in conservative public policy you should be familiar with 287g agreements, which allow the federal government to grant funds to municipal authorites to detain undocumented immigrants for no reason other than their immigration status (which is a civil infracture rather than a crime). In fact there are 2,000 immigrants being held in three county jails in New Jersey alone as per their 287g agreements; this number alone brings your supposed 7% difference down to 5%.There are 16 states with 287g agreements and many, many more immigrants detained for their immigration status than the 2,000 in NJ. That’s just one pretty obvious mistake in the causal model you propose above that you could’ve avoided by referring to the economics textbook you linked above on causation in statistical analysis. If you’d read the section on causation, you’d see that adequately proving causation requires empirical correlation, direction of influence and NON-SPURIOUSNESS. Your causation is spurious; the relationship you purport to prove is explainable by an extraneous third factor.
2. you claim throughout the piece that 10x as many immigrants were deported in 2015 as there were people incarcerated in US jails and prisons. Furthermore, you make the claim that 1.5 million immigrants were deported in 2015. Basic division suggests that you believe that there are 150,000 people incarcerated in US jails and prisons. This is so obviously factually untrue that I have some difficulty believing you made this error by mistake, especially because your argument above about the US census requires that you read US census data that shows that there are upwards of 2 million people in adult correctional facilities (doesn’t include some county jails and halfway houses). While there are roughly 150,000 people in federal prisons (because federal prisons only incarcerate people convicted in federal courts) there are about 3 million people incarcerated in US jails and prisons, which include county jails, halfway houses, state prisons and private prisons. Therefore, your claim that ten times as many immigrants were deported in 2015 as there were people incarcerated in US jails and prisons is at least twenty times wrong.
3. your third point is nonsensical – besides the obvious error (see point 2, 10 times as many people being deported is flatly wrong) you don’t prove anything that you claim to prove. You claim that “after deporting 10 times more noncitizens convicted of crimes than are in U.S. prisons and jails, they are still 7% more likely to be incarcerated than the general public. This indicates a level of criminality that is multiplicatively higher than the U.S. population.” This is badly phrased and appeals to a statistic that we know isn’t true, so I’ll try to tease out a truth claim for you that we can actually discuss.
In short, you argue
a. the entire incarcerated population has a high recidivism rate and therefore often becomes incarcerated again.
b. by not allowing noncitizens to remain in the country, we do not allow them to reoffend and therefore become incarcerated again
b. therefore, deporting incarcerated noncitizens should lower the the amount of incarcerated noncitizens in the future.
This isn’t bad logic, it just doesn’t do what you claim it does. It’s possible that deporting incarcerated noncitizens who committed a crime could reduce the incarcerated noncitizen population. this is a question you would have to test with a causal model to find out the size of the effect on the population in question. instead, you argue without any proof of any kind that the effect of deporting incarcerated noncitizens would be multiplicative. Using the exact same (lack of) logic, I could argue that the effect of my initial criticism (in which i argued that your causal model about crime was spurious because noncitizen people are incarcerated for different reasons than native born people) is negatively multiplicative or for that matter exponential. Without the adequate rigor you wind up skipping the argument and just blowing smoke at the statistic.
4. Your data misuse section utilizes fails to adequately criticize the second paper you cite. I’ll ignore the first one because it’s basically just intended to be a fact sheet and you break about as many statistical rules as that study does in your purported analysis above.
Re: the second paper – it proposes multiple causal models in “SELECTION, NETWORKS, AND IMMIGRANT REVITALIZATION” that are put together and tested in “DATA, METHOD, AND LOGIC OF ANALYSIS.” Your discussion above suggests that you cannot interpret a regression or the construction of one; the regressions constructed in the section marked “DATA, METHOD AND LOGIC OF ANALYSIS” test several possible causes for the association between immigration and low crime rates, including states and municipal authorities hiring more police, cultural diffusion, increased social control and the effect of ethnic enclaves on crime. In short, it poses several theories of causation and tests for each. Your criticism was unwarranted and bad.
I’m not going to go much further on this one. Your criticism of the Cato study is poor and really isn’t deserving of critical thought. Don’t sponsor posts like this if you’re going to claim that you do real research on public policy issues.
1. You either failed to understand the article or are deliberately misrepresenting it:
• The article does not state that “1.5 million immigrants were deported in 2015.” It states that “1.5 million immigrants who were convicted of committing crimes in the U.S.” were deported “in the decade ending in 2015.” Illegal presence in the U.S. is not a crime but a civil offense, so these are not typical illegal immigrants. These are convicted criminals.
• The article does not state “that 10x as many immigrants were deported in 2015 as there were people incarcerated in US jails and prisons.” It states that 10 times as many convicted criminal immigrants were deported in the decade ending in 2015 than the number of noncitizens in U.S. adult correctional facilities during 2015.
That’s five falsehoods you crammed into just two sentences. Any careful reader with basic comprehension skills would never make such errors.
2. You are wrong about U.S. immigration policy:
• 287(g) agreements vary by jurisdiction, but they mainly allow local law enforcement to briefly detain illegal immigrants only after they are arrested for committing non-immigration crimes. For example, Cape Cod’s Barnstable County Sheriff states that 287(g) gives its officers “authorization to identify, process, and when appropriate to further detain immigration offenders already in their custody. For the Sheriff’s Office, this means those who have already been arrested, arraigned and placed in our custody by a state judge on a separate and unique local criminal offense.”
• Your claim that 2,000 immigrants are being held in three county jails in New Jersey under 287(g) agreements for “no reason other than their immigration status” is hogwash. Perhaps that’s why you didn’t provide a shred of evidence to support it.
3. You don’t seem to understand how regressions work:
• The second paper I critiqued uses “regression models” of nonexperimental data, and these cannot prove causation. Per the book Regression With Social Data: Modeling Continuous and Limited Response Variables:
Likewise, the book Multiple Regression: A Primer states:
• Worsening the problem above, the second paper tries to infer the criminality of illegal immigrants by measuring the total crime rates of entire states. As the article explains, this is absurd given that illegal immigrants comprise only 4% of the U.S. population in this study. In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio is far too low to determine causation.
• One does not need a “causal model” to estimate the relative crime rates of non-citizens to the general public. This can be done with straightforward math and logic, and that’s just what this article does.
The footnote in table 41 doesn’t say that these 1.5 million aliens were removed for committing crimes in the U.S. It says they were removed for a previous criminal conviction. The footnote doesn’t indicate where the criminal conviction occurred.
It is true that the report containing Table 41 only says these are “persons removed who have a prior criminal conviction.” The fact that these are criminal convictions in the U.S. is proven by an ICE report that provides an appendix of “Key Terms and Definitions” used by ICE. It states, “Convicted Criminal: An individual convicted in the United States for one or more criminal offenses. This does not include civil traffic offenses.”
This report is cited in the footnotes of Just Facts’ comprehensive research on immigration and crime.
Main 3 claims
The article claims the data shows “a combination of three material facts” as quoted:
1.) “From 2011 to 2015 shows that noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities.”
2.) “In the decade ending in 2015, the U.S. deported at least 1.5 million noncitizens who were convicted of committing crimes in the U.S. (Table 41). This amounts to 10 times the number of noncitizens in U.S. adult correctional facilities during 2015.”
3.) “Convicts released from prison have an average of 3.9 prior convictions, not including convictions that led to their imprisonment (Table 5). This means that people in prison are often repeat offenders—but as shown by the previous fact, masses of convicted criminals have been deported, making it hard for them to reoffend and end up in a U.S. prison.
In other words, even after deporting 10 times more noncitizens convicted of crimes than are in U.S. prisons and jails, they are still 7% more likely to be incarcerated than the general public. This indicates a level of criminality that is multiplicatively higher than the U.S. population.”
This claim links to a spreadsheet. Searching around, I found that data came from the census bureau (link) and is authentic. However, he is reading it completely wrong as far as I can tell. This is the header for the referenced table (in the spreadsheet):
Notice that column B is “Total Population” and column F is “Adult correctional facilities” (the number of incarcerated persons). Cell B103 indicates that “Not a U.S. citizen” comprise 7% of the population, and cell F103 indicates the 7.5% of the total incarcerated persons are “Not a U.S. citizen”. The author’s claim was that “noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities” but the table only says that 7% of people in US jails are not citizens. That’s completely different from what the article claims.
The data says that there are 294,245,828 US citizens in the country (cell B90 minus cell B102) and 2,239,400 (cell F90) of those people are in jail (0.761% of that population), and that there are 22,269,193 non-citizens in the country (cell B102) and 168,863 (cell F102) of those non-citizens are in jail (0.758% of that population).
Summary: claim is completely false by the very data it references. The table shows that US citizens are incarcerated at a slightly higher rate than non-citizens (0.761% versus 0.758%).
It seems you are not well-versed in Excel. On the bottom of the file is another tab named “Incarceration Rates,” and it contains the precise calculations that establish the relative incarceration rates. As shown in cell D8, noncitizens are, in fact, 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities.
Furthermore, your hand calculation uses data for “US citizens,” but the fact plainly states “the U.S. population.”
If you acknowledge these errors, I will continue to explain why your other critiques are false or misguided. I don’t like to take this hard line, but we serve millions of people, and a tiny fraction of them would waste all my time if I let them.
So I looked again at the 7% claim and I think the confusion is because of the wording:
“First, U.S. Census data from 2011 to 2015 shows that noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities.”
That comparison is between U.S. population and noncitizens, I mistakenly compared citizens and noncitizens. For that comparison I believe my result is correct. The comparison he made looks correct in his spreadsheet, but I realized that the census data I linked to does not match the authors’ spreadsheet in many places; I cannot find a matching spreadsheet from the census website and would love a link to one.
I performed a similar analysis using newer data (2013-17 instead of 2011-15) using CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GROUP QUARTERS POPULATION BY GROUP QUARTERS TYPE (5 TYPES) more information 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (US census). In that data I find the following (all ‘incarcerated’ are in ‘adult correctional facilities’):
Total: 298,666,642 (US population – noncitizens)
Incarcerated: 2,053,801 (incarcerated population – noncitizen incarcerated population)
Not a US citizen
So that data looks like incarceration rates for citizens are very slightly higher than non-citizens (0.687% versus 0.681%), and there is certainly not a +7% incarceration rate in noncitizens versus the US population. The differences in the 3 groups are within the margin-of-error for most of these values so I would say they can be considered roughly equal.
I would be interested in reading a rebuttal to this analysis (and my previous one) if the author has time!
Here is a link to the dataset in the spreadsheet. As you will see, they match. I have also added the link into the spreadsheet for easy reference.
I don’t have time to check your transcriptions and math, but the difference between the figures you calculated for 2013-2017 (-1%) and the figures I calculated for 2011-2015 (7%) could easily be the result of small changes over time.
Nonetheless, both of our figures prove that the incarceration rates for citizens and non-citizens are in the same ballpark. And as I wrote, “This alone debunks the common media narrative” that “illegal immigrants are more law-abiding than the general public….”
Hence, before we move forward, I’d like to make sure we are on the same page. Specifically, this means that my statement in the above paragraph is correct, and these statements you made are untrue:
1) “The author’s claim was that ‘noncitizens are 7% more likely than the U.S. population to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities’ but the table only says that 7% of people in US jails are not citizens. That’s completely different from what the article claims.”
2) “Summary: claim is completely false by the very data it references.”
3) “claim #1 is totally false”
Firstly, this claim is intentionally misleading. It’s comparing data from “the decade ending in 2015” to “during 2015” and saying that the former is 10 times the latter. A more meaningful comparison would be something like “for every noncitizen in jail in 2015, one noncitizen with a criminal record was deported” – that’s all the DHS data he refers to says. Comparing a decade to a single year is done for dramatic effect so the author can say “ten times”.
This is what the table the author references from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) looks like:
First off, the author gets the numbers wrong as far as I can tell. The sum of those 10 years of deportations with category “criminal” is:
98490 + 102394 + 105266 + 131837 + 169656 + 188964 + 198981 + 169253 + 139950
(the author says “at least 1.5 million noncitizens”, but it’s actually 1.3M)
The article seems to say that the “criminal” category means the person was removed for a criminal act. Now note the little “1” next to “Criminal” in the table. The footnote at the end of table 41 (page 115) says:
“1 Refers to persons removed who have a prior criminal conviction.”
In other words, that category applies to any illegal immigrant who is deported and has a criminal record. This is problematic because he’s comparing people who have ever been convicted of a crime with people who are currently incarcerated for a crime; that would be like saying there are X criminals in the US because there are X people with criminal records – not everyone with a criminal record would meet a Reasonable Person definition of being a “criminal” at present.
Also missing is what type of conviction is in their history; how do you know what percentage of them have a criminal history of, say, illegal immigration itself? The author uses the phrase “serious criminality by illegal immigrants”, but there is absolutely no description of the severity of the crimes in the DHS data he references. In the conclusion of the article he says “Illegal immigrants are much more likely to commit serious crimes than the general public”, and again there is no description of severity anywhere in this data.
Summary: the data is real but reported in an inaccurate and misleading manner. The conclusions drawn from it are simply not in the data; the writing of the author implies the persons were deported for committing a crime which is not what the data seems to record. Worst of all, the comparison of a decade to a single year is meaningless but used for dramatic effect anyway. This is very bad because this claim is used repeatedly after in descriptions like “the US deports massive numbers of criminal illegal immigrants every year”
I think this claim is accurate but is irrelevant since claim #1 is totally false and claim #2 is partially false and mostly meaningless.
Using claims 1-3 (which are not true) for a new claim
The article ties claims 1-3 together into this claim:
“In other words, even after deporting 10 times more noncitizens convicted of crimes than are in U.S. prisons and jails, they are still 7% more likely to be incarcerated than the general public. This indicates a level of criminality that is multiplicatively higher than the U.S. population.”
It’s simply not true that we are “deporting 10 times more noncitizens convicted of crimes than are in US prisons and jails”. The 10 times number comes from comparing a decade to a single year and is meaningless (claim #2). Given that I find this whole statement is meaningless, because it’s based on the “10 times” thing.
A purely spectulative claim
“Furthermore, roughly half of noncitizens are in the U.S. legally, and legal immigrants rarely commit crimes. This is because U.S. immigration laws are designed to keep criminals out. Thus, the vast majority of incarcerated noncitizens are doubtlessly illegal immigrants. If legal immigrants were removed from the equation, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants would probably be about twice as high as for all noncitizens.”
The bold sentence has no cited data behind it whatsoever. The last sentence is purely speculative, the author claiming that without any data is totally useless.
On declining crime during a period of increased illegal immigration (section “data misuse”)
The author is of course correct that correlation does not imply causation. Indeed, if you go look at the materials the author is attacking, they do not anywhere claim that there is a causal effect there and consistently (and correctly) say the two phenomena or “associated”.
Even though correlation does not imply causation, the reverse is generally true for most statistics: causation does imply correlation. If illegal immigrants do commit more crime, than one would reasonably expect crime rates to increase in step with increasing rates of illegal immigration, but the opposite has occurred. This does not prove that illegal immigration lowers crime (it likely doesn’t), but it is a sign of a contradiction to the theory that illegal immigrants commit more crime (if that theory were true, crime would have to have been dropping much faster than usual to compensate for the extra crime committed by the incoming waves of illegal immigrants).
A bit later the author says:
“Contrary to its narrative that growing numbers of immigrants during 1990–2013 caused crime to fall, the number of immigrants also grew during the 1970s and 1980s, but during this time, the homicide rate rose, fell, and rose again”
Indeed, this doesn’t show that illegal immigration lowers crime (no one is claiming it does); it is another indication that it has no correlation with crime rates however.
Attacks on the Cato article
“This also may be why Cato finds relatively low overall conviction rates for illegal immigrants in Texas—while nationwide—the Congressional Research Service reports that the incarceration rate for noncitizens has “corresponded closely to that of noncitizens in the U.S. population….” Again, since roughly half of noncitizens are in the U.S. legally, and legal immigrants tend to be very law-abiding, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants is probably about twice as high as for all noncitizens.”
The use of the word “probably” in statistics without mathematical basis should alarm the reader. I have no clue where the result of “twice” came from. As such this claim appears to have no fact behind it; how do we know the number isn’t 1.2? Or 0.8? Or 1.8? Or 2.5? No basis for “twice”.
“Also, unauthorized immigrants are more apt to literally get away with murder than the general population. This is because murders committed by minorities are less likely to be solved.”
“Murders committed by minorities are less likely to be solved” does not at all mean that it holds true for illegal immigrants. They are different populations, with plenty of overlap and non-overlap. This claim is a large leap, and is just another attempt to attribute more crimes to illegal immigrants even when the real perpetrator is unknown.
“On top of this, information from the Social Security Administration and other sources shows that most illegal immigrants engage in identity fraud.”
This claim links to another page on justfactsdaily.com which does not contain a legit reference for this information. However even the information presented there does not support the “most” claim whatsoever. That page claims:
0.6 million illegal immigrants “had temporary work authorized at some point in the past and have overstayed the term of their visas.”
0.7 million illegal immigrants worked by using Social Security numbers obtained by using “fraudulent birth certificates.”
(who cares, by the way? Doesn’t this mean they are paying into social security but probably can’t collect?)
1.8 million illegal immigrants worked by using Social Security numbers “that did not match their name.”
(again, why should I care?)
3.9 million illegal immigrants worked “in the underground economy.”
The census data discussed earlier says there are 22.2 million non-citizens in the US and the author claims roughly half of those are illegal. The sum of all the numbers listed there is 7.7 million which isn’t “most” of 22 million. I also don’t see how “overstayed visa” is SS fraud, same for “worked in the underground economy” (or maybe I just think lots of citizens are doing that also and I don’t care).
Claims in the conclusion
“However, the opposite is true when it comes to legal immigrants, especially those who become U.S. citizens. They are 79% less likely than the general public to be incarcerated in adult correctional facilities. In this case, deportations are not a factor, because immigrants who become citizens generally cannot be deported unless they are stripped of their citizenship, which is a rare occurrence.”
There are lots of things wrong with this paragraph:
I have no idea where he gets 79% from, the spreadsheet shows that citizens and non-citizens are incarcerated at about the same rates.
He talks about how citizens can’t be deported unless stripped of citizenship (true), but has subtly changed the population to be “immigrants who become citizens” while the previous clause was discussing the incarceration rate of “legal immigrants” (many of whom are not citizens).
I find this article to be by-and-large false and definitely does not prove illegal immigrants have higher criminality than citizens or the native-born. The article is rife with what I perceive to be willful deception and lots of misinterpretation.
In regards to this website (justfactsdaily.com), I don’t at all think it is an objective facts site. The front page shows a bunch of articles that all have a very particular leaning, such as:
“Wash Post Repeatedly Botches Fact Check of Trump’s State of the Union Address”
“Bernie Sanders’ Education Plan is Rife With Deceit”
“Leading Progressives Blame the Wrong Culprit for Rising College Costs”
“The SAT Is Feeding Students Solar Industry Propaganda”
I haven’t read any of those articles. But their titles should be clear indications to you that justfactsdaily.com is not some kind of objective fact-checking source, it’s just another political website.