One of the most hot-button issues in Los Angeles and the U.S. lately has been the topic of immigration. Economic concerns are always viable, but the focus on developing stricter immigration laws has been on the risk of crime and preventing criminals from crossing our borders. But how big of a threat are undocumented immigrants when it comes to increasing criminal activity in the country?
According to the American Immigration Council, and FBI data, while the number of undocumented immigrations increased from 3.5 million to 11.2 million between 1990 and 2013, the rate of violent crime actually fell by 48% during the same time period. To put this into further context, another study by Bianca Bersani, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, finds that 17% of all first-generation immigrants who are 16 have committed a crime in the past year, while about 25% of native-born 16 year olds have. An second-generation immigrants commit crimes at about the same rights as native-born citizens – but the issue is really crimes committed by undocumented, first-generation immigrants – at least, according to the White House. After all, the White House plans to publish a list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the sanctuary cities across the country. He also has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office called VOICE – helping ‘victims of immigrant crime.’
But other studies reach similar conclusions about the reduced rate of criminal behavior amongst undocumented immigrants: Among people aged 18-54, 1.53% of the native population is incarcerated versus .85 percent of undocumented immigrants. Anecdotally, some opponents of Mr. Trump’s immigration policy argue that areas with high numbers of immigrants actually tend to have lower rates of crime, although it is difficult to prove this assertion. In fact, the only place where Mr. Trump might be correct is in looking at crimes related to poverty and theft when looking at potential increases in crime committed by undocumented immigrants. But the violent crimes are largely committed by the native population.
The rhetoric of fear concerning immigration deals with the threat of terrorism, too – two bans on residents traveling from certain countries emphasize this belief. Perhaps Mr. Trump’s information is more accurate in this realm? Not exactly. Thankfully, deaths due to foreign-born terrorism are incredibly rare, and aside from the attacks on 9/11, foreign-born terrorists have killed about one American per year. Americans are actually more likely to die from an animal attack than a foreign born terrorist.
Of course, these statistics do not mean that immigrants do not commit any violent crimes, and one common example used by anti-immigration advocates is the story of Kathryn Steinle’s murder, committed by a man who had been deported from the U.S. to Mexico five times. And the Federation for American Immigration Reform compiles a list of serious crimes committed by undocumented aliens. In 2016, the examples of crimes occurred at the rate of about once a month, with a significant number of immigrants belonging to gangs. Additionally, the Department of Public Safety in Texas has tracked an increase in drug smuggling, although these cases are likely committed by individuals with no intention of remaining and immigrating into the country. So, statistically speaking, these stories of crime, while tragic, are exceptions to the rule, and should not be heavily depended upon in developing and crafting policy for immigration.