The relationship between undocumented immigrants and violent crime in the United States remains a hot topic in the news. There have been wildly conflicting claims on the subject, including the initial onslaught by then candidate Donald Trump back in 2015. Those claims, that much of the violent crime in the country was being committed by illegal immigrants, were checked and found not only to be unsubstantiated, but also, according to virtually all the research on the subject, to be downright false.
The starting point for any position on this subject must begin with the fact that according to FBI data, the rate of violent crime in the country was cut almost in half between 1990 and 2013, the latest figures available when the first Trump claim was aired. During that same period, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States tripled. Those facts alone militate against the claim that undocumented immigrants are a major source of violent crime. And just about all the studies on the subject showed no correlation between illegal immigration and increases in crime – that is, until recently, with the publication of a study by the Crime Prevention Research Center, which claimed that legal immigrants were extremely law-abiding, but that illegal immigrants commit crime at “extremely high rates.”
Any study on this subject, in order to be meaningful, must be able to identify the difference between illegal and legal immigrants. A problem arises because no one tracks prisoners in U.S. jails and prisons by immigration status. When the new study was released, it was touted as being the first one to fill the gap. And based upon that research, it was asserted that, for example, illegal aliens are two times more likely than native Arizonans to be convicted of crimes.
But the data doesn’t support the conclusion. Reviewing the information from Arizona, one researcher noted that there is a category of prisoners labeled “non-U.S. citizen, deportable.” At a quick glance, it would appear that this is limited to illegal immigrants. But it isn’t. It includes (a) illegal immigrants, as well as immigrants convicted of crimes who hold (b) green cards, (c) temporary work permits, and (d) tourist visas. As a result, the study itself fails to accurately define undocumented immigrants, and therefore fails to support its own conclusion.
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