“Criminal Aliens” Commit Mostly Victimless Crimes, Few Violent Crimes

During his campaign, President Trump promised to target the “bad hombres” in the United States illegally. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) statistics indicate that his administration has cast a much wider net. More than one in four immigrants that ICE arrested last year had no criminal convictions at all, and of the rest, their convictions were mostly victimless crimes—largely traffic infractions, immigration offenses, and drug offenses. Almost 90 percent were for nonviolent crimes. ICE cannot justify its broad crackdown based on these figures.

Figure 1 shows immigrants arrested by ICE by whether they had a criminal conviction (top left) and the distribution of the convictions by type of conviction (bottom right). ICE statistics only provide a list of all convictions that the entire population of criminal aliens committed, meaning that they only show the distribution of convictions, not the distribution of immigrants based on their most serious offense. That said, a majority of all convictions were for crimes with no private victims (i.e. not the government or “society”). Just 11 percent were violent crimes (just one percent were homicide and sexual assault).

Figure 1: Immigrants Arrested by ICE by Criminal Conviction and Distribution of Criminal Convictions

Immigrants and Type of Convictions

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Figure 2 shows the distribution within each broad category of convictions. Most violent crimes were assaults, which include simple assaults defined by the FBI to include assaults “where no weapon was used or no serious or aggravated injury resulted” and include “stalking, intimidation, coercion, and hazing” where no injuries occurred. The FBI excludes simple assault from its definition of violent crime, but ICE fails to break down this category, so we cannot. The plurality of property crimes were larcenies, which include “thefts of bicycles, motor vehicle parts and accessories, shoplifting, pocket-picking, or the stealing of any property or article that is not taken by force and violence or by fraud.”

Almost two-thirds of the “possible victims” category includes DUIs, which usually don’t have a victim but impose the threat of injury on people. This category also includes some nebulous categories like “privacy,” “threats,” and disturbing the peace, which are undefined in the ICE report. Nonviolent sex crimes include statutory rape as well as lude behaviors in public. Fraud and forgery could have victims or they could be crimes where immigrants allow their family members to use their identities to obtain work in the United States. Family offenses include “nonviolent acts by a family member (or legal guardian) that threaten the physical, mental, or economic well-being or morals of another family member” that aren’t classified elsewhere (e.g. violating a restraining order). Kidnapping convictions generally arise from custody disputes over children, so I included them in this category.

Figure 2: Distribution of Convictions of Criminal Immigrants Arrested by ICE

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Victimless offenses were traffic infractions that were not DUIs, immigration offenses such as entering the country illegally, or “vice” crimes (drugs, sex work, or alcohol). Immigration “crimes” include illegally entering the country, reentering after a deportation, falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, and smuggling. Obstruction offenses mainly include parole and probation violations or failure to appear in court.

Cato Institute research has previously shown that illegal immigrants are less likely to end up incarcerated in the United States than U.S.-born individuals of the same age. A new paper by my colleague Alex Nowrasteh concludes that illegal immigrants in Texas are significantly less likely to commit a variety of crimes than U.S.-born adults. Illegal immigrants are not generally threats to Americans. Only certain serious criminals who happen to be immigrants are.

ICE provides a public service when it apprehends and removes immigrants from society who are threats to Americans. It fails the public when it deports other people and, by reducing the number of peaceful people in the society, actually increases the proportion of criminals. This strategy will not make Americans safer—indeed, it will make them less safe. Congress should again require ICE to focus on serious criminals.

Table: FY 2017 Total ERO Administrative Arrests Criminal Convictions

Criminal Category Criminal Convictions
Traffic Offenses - DUI

59,985

Dangerous Drugs

57,438

Immigration

52,128

Traffic Offenses

43,908

Assault

31,919

Larceny

15,918

Obstructing Judiciary, Congress, Legislature, Etc.

11,655

General Crimes

10,702

Burglary

10,262

Obstructing the Police

9,976

Fraudulent Activities

8,922

Weapon Offenses

8,260

Public Peace

7,336

Sex Offenses (Not Assault or Commercialized Sex)

5,033

Invasion of Privacy

4,830

Stolen Vehicle

4,678

Robbery

4,595

Family Offenses

3,934

Forgery

3,768

Sexual Assault

3,705

Stolen Property

3,176

Damage Property

2,681

Flight / Escape

2,319

Liquor

2,313

Health / Safety

1,548

Homicide

1,531

Kidnapping

1,317

Commercialized Sexual Offenses

995

Threat

847

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement