March 19, 2017
By Rafael Bernal
Immigrants commit crimes and are incarcerated at a much lower rate than U.S. citizens, according to two separate studies released this week.
A study by The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group, found that "foreign-born residents of the United States commit crime less often than native-born citizens."
Another study, by the libertarian Cato Institute, compares incarceration rates by migratory status, ethnicity and gender.
"All immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives relative to their shares of the population," the Cato study reads.
On the campaign trail and as president, Donald Trump has portrayed illegal immigration as a dual risk: an economic threat and a source of increased crime.
Under President Trump's 2018 budget request, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) budget would grow by $3 billion to fund his proposed border wall and executive orders on immigration.
When he launched his presidential bid, Trump said that illegal immigrants “are bringing crime.” And in speeches, he frequently mentions individuals whose loved ones have been killed by illegal immigrants.
"It's all enforcement-only, following the rhetoric of Trump that he used in the campaign and continues to use, making immigrants at fault for everything, from crime to the economy," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
But the two studies don’t point to immigrants posing more of a threat of crime than citizens born in the U.S.
Among people aged 18-54, 1.53 percent of natives are incarcerated, as are 0.85 percent of undocumented immigrants and 0.47 percent of documented immigrants, according to the Cato study of comparative incarceration rates.
The Cato study found that there are about 2 million U.S-born citizens, 123,000 undocumented immigrants and 64,000 documented foreign citizens in U.S. jails.
If natural-born citizens were incarcerated at the same rate as undocumented immigrants, "about 893,000 fewer natives would be incarcerated," read the study. Similarly, if native citizens were incarcerated at the same rate as documented immigrants, 1.4 million fewer would be in prison.
The Sentencing Project study even goes so far as to suggest that increased immigration "may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates" since 1990.
While the study is "not definitive in proving causation," it links crime trends — 730 violent crimes per 100,000 citizens in 1990 compared to 362 per 100,000 in 2014 — and immigration trends in the same period. According to the study, there were 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country in 1990, and 11.1 million in 2014.
Democrats say it's a well-known fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, but they say Trump is using fear of immigrants for political gain among his voter base.
"There's always the horrible, fallacious view that you have to go after immigrants and then you point out a few immigrants that have committed horrible crimes," said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).
"You could do the same with mothers. I remember quite well a mother taking her children and driving them into a lake, and they all drowned. You wouldn't make the argument then that mothers are bad and we have to go after mothers because mothers are criminal," he added.
Grijalva said the tactic would ultimately backfire on Republicans.
"The weakest of people in this country are the ones being made the scapegoats for everything, and unfortunately, facts don't matter, logic doesn't matter," said Grijalva.
"It's a rush to deal with a campaign issue that I think Republicans in general and the Trump administration specifically feel that an anti-immigrant strategy is going to be something that will serve them well in the next round of elections. I don't think so, I think it's going to catch up with them," he said.
But for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the issue isn't whether the Trump administration enforces existing laws based on statistical information, but whether those laws are adequate. He criticized both Trump and former President Obama for their immigration priorities.
"This president is emphasizing border security — the last president deported more people than anybody in history. Both of those approaches, I think, don't deal with a big part of what is broken, which is a legal system that is just dysfunctional," Diaz-Balart said.
Diaz-Balart added that the border is "porous" and that Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises by focusing on border security.
But Democrats have a sense of urgency in reversing Trump's initial actions on immigration, both because they believe that immigrants are less prone to crime, and because they disagree with Trump's budget proposal.
"I live in San Diego. A high number of immigrants live there, both documented and undocumented, and that's one of the reasons why it's such a safe area. The crime rate among immigrants is much lower than it is among the general population. So spending all this money to go after immigrants, a safer population, really makes no sense at all," said Vargas.
Source: The Hill