What Immigrant Crime Wave?

September 2007

Bill Johnson in the Denver Post takes Greeley District Attorney Ken Buck to task for calling a town meeting to discuss immigrant crime in the community.

Exactly how many crimes do illegal immigrants in that small northern Colorado city commit? And I mean exactly. I have been trying most of this week to ask this of Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, but he has not called back. My presumption is that the DA would know, since he's the one who staged the "Illegal Immigration: The Untold Stories" town meeting to detail crimes committed by illegal immigrants in his jurisdiction. I cannot imagine a law enforcement official anywhere else calling a town meeting to discuss crimes committed by one singled-out ethnic group. At least you would hope not.

Ken Buck may not have or want the answers and I can't speak directly to Greeley, but I spent a lot of time researching this issue on the national level last month for an op-ed in the Examiner newspapers, What Immigrant Crime Wave? Here's what I found from the research and concluded:

The vast majority of immigrants in this country, whether present with or without proper papers, are hardworking, law-abiding people with strong family ties. They are little different from the immigrants of 100 years ago. They are not stealing our jobs or draining scant public resources. They pay taxes and help make our country a better place for all of us. Most immigrants enter the country legally. According to the INS Statistical Yearbook, 75 percent of immigrants have legal, permanent visas. Of the 25 percent who are undocumented, 40 percent overstayed temporary visas, meaning their initial entry into the country was legal. Immigration does not breed crime. Our prisons are not overflowing because of crimes by the undocumented. They are overflowing because of our failed criminal justice policies and over reliance on incarceration versus treatment and rehabilitation with respect to our nonviolent homegrown offenders. There is nothing wrong with having a debate about immigration. But it is deplorable to falsely stereotype and malign millions of law-abiding people because of one's desire for a particular outcome in that debate.

As for the sources for my research, here are the stats I found most persuasive and relied on in the op-ed:

  • Bureau of Justice Statistics Report: Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006. See in particular, page 18 and the chart Appendix Table 6: Number of noncitizens held in State or federal prisons, by state and gender, June 2006 and June 2005.
  • The 2.25 million figure is also in their press release for the report here.
  • Also see the report for 2005 showing the difference between 2005 and 2004, in particular, page 5, right hand column (chart at top and bottom)
  • Immigration Policy Report showing 2000 Census Bureau stats on low incidence of foreign born men in prison.
    "The incarceration rate of U.S.- born men 18 to 39 years old in 2000 was 3.5 percent -- five times higher than the incarceration rate of their immigrant counterparts, the study found. The report -- which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, police records and other sources -- also shows that a large increase in illegal immigrants has not resulted in a rise in crime. Since 1994, violent crime in the United States has declined 34 percent, and property crime has fallen 26 percent. At the same time, the illegal immigrant population has doubled to around 12 million. "
  • Also see this article from 2/07 charting numbers from study.
  • Violent and property crime stats for past decade (decline subsustantially)
  • 2000 Census stats analyzed See section, "Immigrants Have Lower Incarceration Rates Than Natives" and in particular, charts 3 and 4. Footnote 23 says:
    Data from the 5% Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS) of the 2000 Census are here used to measure the institutionalization rates of immigrants and natives, focusing on males 18 to 39, among whom the vast majority of the institutionalized are in correctional facilities. For a description of the methodology used to produce estimates of the incarcerated population from census data, see Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, Recent Immigrants: Unexpected Implications for Crime and Incarceration (Working Paper 6067). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, June 1997.
  • The 2000 Census report
  • Yearbook of INS Statistics
  • On the number of those who enter with visas vs. illegally (pdf), citing the INS Statistical Yearbook, go to number 8.
  • Also see, Indianopolis Star Editorial, 7/27/07, "Illegal doesn't make them criminal" citing many statistics, available on Lexis. com.

Who said writing op-eds is easy? Not me. Blogging is such a treat by comparison.

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