Illegal Immigrants Are Far More Likely to Commit Serious Crimes Than the U.S. Public
… 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.