Tag: Crime

Criminal Aliens Are Not Surging the Border

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have apprehended 531,711 people so far during the fiscal year (FY) 2019.  CBP apprehended 109,144 people in April alone, marking the second month in a row that more than 100,000 people have been apprehended.  Relative to the end of April in FY 2018, apprehensions this year are up 84 percent and the number is more than double just for the month of April relative to last April.  Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the number of criminal aliens encountered by CBP is continuing to drop.

CBP defines criminal aliens as those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also a crime in the United States. From the beginning of FY 2015 through the end of April 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens encountered by CBP, which includes Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations, have fallen in every year.  In 2015, about 4.9 percent of all CBP apprehensions were criminal aliens. For FY 2019 through the end of April, only about 1.9 percent of people apprehended by CBP were criminal aliens.

The absolute number of criminal aliens apprehended is also dropping.  If the number of criminal aliens apprehended continues to decline apace for FY 2019, the absolute number will be also about 35 percent below the total number apprehended in 2015.  To put that in perspective, CBP has already apprehended about 87,000 more people so far in FY 2019 than in all of FY 2015.

From FY 2015 to FY 2019, the percentage of those apprehended by CBP who were non-criminals rose from 95.1 percent to 98.1 percent while the percentage who were criminals fell from 4.9 percent to 1.9 percent (Figure 1).  In absolute numbers, criminal aliens have also declined from 26,932 apprehensions in FY 2015 to 10,173 through the first seven months of FY 2019.  If the trend of criminal alien apprehensions continues for the rest of FY2019, there will be about 17,439 by the end of this FY – well below the 20,486 recorded in 2018.

Figure 1: Non-Criminal and Criminal Aliens

The most persistent argument in support of closing the border, harsher border security methods, or restricting asylum is that those being apprehended are criminals who pose a serious threat to Americans.  Based on data supplied by CBP, the absolute number of criminal aliens and their proportion of all apprehensions along the border are lower in FY 2019 than in previous years.  Furthermore, these numbers provide evidence that the current surge of Central American women and children is better from an American security perspective than a large surge of single men.  Although the current immigration issues on the border present challenges, they do not present serious criminal challenges.

Agencies Charged with Enforcing Immigration Laws Incarcerate Immigrants, Unsurprisingly

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released a report on immigrants incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and as pretrial detainees by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).  The report offers some comments on state and local incarceration of non-citizens, but no systematic information.  BOP and USMS are both agencies within the DOJ, so it is simpler to look at the numbers for the DOJ altogether.

The DHS and DOJ are two agencies charged with enforcing immigration laws and incarcerating those who violate them, so it is unsurprising that a large percentage of those incarcerated in federal prisons are there for violating immigration offenses.  According to the report, about 19 percent of those incarcerated in the BOP or held by the USMS are known or suspected illegal immigrants and about 6 percent are legal non-citizens.  The remaining 75 percent are U.S. citizens, but some unknown percentage of them are likely immigrants too.  Non-citizens are about 7 percent of the entire U.S. population so they are overrepresented in federal prison.  

The report breaks down the primary offenses that non-citizens are incarcerated or held for in federal custody.  The most common primary offense was immigration at 38 percent, followed by drug offenses at 37 percent.  Other crimes comprise the remaining 25 percent.  The report does not show the number of primary offenses committed by illegal immigrants.  Through the 3rd quarter of 2018, about 33.7 percent of new offenders were sentenced for immigration offenses according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  Turns out that non-citizens are more likely to be sentenced for immigration offenses, which is not surprising.

More importantly, the federal prison population and those held by the USMS are not representative of incarcerated populations nationwide, so excluding them from the report means that it sheds little light on nationwide incarcerations by nativity, legal status, or type of crime.  Of the roughly 2.3 million people incarcerated in 2018, only about 8.3 percent were in federal prisons or held by USMS while the rest are in state and local facilities.    

Federal crimes are also vastly different from state crimes, so the criminals incarcerated in the federal system are very different from those on the state level.  Through the 3rd quarter of 2018, 50,929 people were sentenced to federal prison for federal crimes – 33.7 percent for immigration crimes.  Those immigration convictions comprised 100 percent of the convictions for immigration crimes in the United States in 2018 through the 3rd quarter.  By contrast, there were only 94 federal convictions for murder or manslaughter during the same time.  Although the data for murders in 2018 are not released yet, those federal murder convictions will likely account for less than 1 percent of all murders nationwide if past years are any guide.  For instance, if Mollie Tibbets accused killer is convicted then he’ll be in state prison and not counted in the federal homicide conviction statistics.  

It’s important to understand the number of crimes caused by illegal immigrants, their criminal conviction rates, and their incarceration rates.  But doing so requires examining state-level data in addition to federal data so looking at only the latter produces a non-representative and inaccurate picture of the problem.  Based on the limited evidence that we have, illegal immigrants are less crime-prone than native-born Americans but more crime-prone than legal immigrants.   

Criminal Aliens Are a Small and Falling Percentage of Border Patrol Apprehensions

Customs and Border Protection just announced that Border Patrol has apprehended 364,941 people from the beginning of fiscal year 2019 through to the end of March 2019. Border Patrol apprehensions this FY rose by 34 percent in the month of March. Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the proportion of all apprehensions who are criminal aliens is dropping, in a trend that I wrote about earlier this month. Furthermore, the absolute number of criminal aliens arrested by the end of FY 2019 will be below the number arrested in any year since CBP began publishing data.  

Border Patrol identifies criminal aliens as those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also criminal in the United States. From the beginning of FY 2015 through the end of March 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens arrested by Border Patrol have fallen in every year. In 2015, about 5.7 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions were criminal aliens. For the beginning of FY 2019 through the end of March, only about 0.7 percent of people apprehended by Border Patrol were criminal aliens. If the number of criminal aliens apprehensions continues apace for FY 2019, the absolute number will be about 75 percent below the number apprehended in FY 2015.    

From February 2019 to March 2019, the total annual number of Border Patrol apprehensions climbed by 34 percent while the total number of criminal alien annual apprehensions rose by only 24 percent. In other words, the number of non-criminal apprehensions is rising much faster than the number of criminal aliens apprehended. As the flow grows, it is becoming less criminal. Only 0.5 percent of those apprehended in March were criminal aliens compared to 0.7 percent from October 2018 through February 2019.

From 2015 to FY 2019, the percentage of those apprehended by Border Patrol who were non-criminals rose from 94.3 percent to 99.3 percent while the percentage who were criminals fell from 5.7 percent to 0.7 percent (Figure 1). In absolute numbers, criminal aliens have also declined from 19,117 apprehensions in 2015 to 2,513 through half of FY 2019. If the trend of criminal alien apprehensions continues for the rest of FY 2019, there will be just over 5,000 by the end of this FY – well below the 6,698 recorded in 2018.

 

Figure 1

Non-Criminal and Criminal Aliens

 

Source: Customs and Border Protection.      

The most consistent argument wielded in support of closing the border or harsher border security is that those being apprehended are dangerous criminals. Based on data supplied by Border Patrol, the absolute number of criminal aliens and their proportion of all apprehensions along the border are lower in FY 2019 than in previous years. While the government has an important role in keep criminal aliens out of the United States, the current situation along the border shows that Border Patrol has a better handle on crime than at any time in the recent past.  

Do Minimum Wage Increases Raise Crime Rates?

They do for younger workers and property crimes, finds a new paper by Zachary S. Fone, Joseph J. Sabia and Resul Cesur.

Back in 2016, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) claimed raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour could prevent up to half a million crimes annually. The basic idea was simple: there is good evidence criminal behavior is negatively related to wages. The CEA thought raising the minimum wage would raise the opportunity cost of low-paid workers engaging in crime.

Implicitly they were saying this crime-reduction effect would dominate any impact of job losses or hour reductions leading to more property crime, for economic reasons, or violent crime, for despair-related reasons. But this new paper suggests the CEA’s intuition on the balance of the effects was wrong, for younger workers especially.

The economists use three large crime datasets over a two-decade period to undertake regression analysis of the effect of minimum wages on different crime rates. They control for policing characteristics, crime policy, demographics, health and social welfare policies, minimum high school dropout ages and government lifestyles regulation. Doing so presents robust evidence that minimum wage hikes do not reduce crime. In fact, they increase property crime arrests among 16-24 year olds – the group for whom the minimum wage is most likely to bite.

Their regressions find little evidence minimum wage hikes affect violent or drug crime, or net crime among older individuals. But the impact on young people is positive and strongest when the minimum wage hikes are larger. Digging deeper, they find that the property crimes spike is driven larcenies rather than burglaries, motor vehicle theft or arson. The results are strongest for counties with populations over 100,000 and are likely driven by the traditional labor demand impact of minimum wage hikes (fewer jobs or reduced hours).

The results they obtain of the crime responsiveness to minimum wage hikes implies that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage between 1998 and 2016 led to nearly 80,000 additional property crimes committed by 16-to-24 year olds. This would imply that implementing the $15 per hour Raise The Wage Act today could generate another 410,000 property crimes.

Illegal Immigrants and Crime – Assessing the Evidence

Whether illegal immigrants bring a significant amount of crime to the United States is one of the most important questions to answer in the debate over immigration policy.  President Trump also seems to think so as he launched his campaign in 2015 with the now infamous quote: “[Mexican illegal immigrants] are bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  From executive orders to major talking points to the President’s speeches, which Vox reporter Dara Lind has aptly described as “immigrants are coming over the border to kill you,” Trump is interested in this important topic.  

It is difficult to know whether illegal immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans are.  All immigrants have a lower criminal incarceration rate and there are lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live, according to the near-unanimous findings of the peer-reviewed evidence.  Since 1911, large nationwide federal immigration commissions have asked whether immigrants are more crime-prone than native-born Americans and each one of them answered no, even when the rest of their reports unjustifiably blamed immigrants for virtually every problem in the United States.  From the 1911 Immigration Commission, also known as the Dillingham Commission, to the 1931 Wickersham Commission, and 1994’s Barbara Jordan Commission, each has reported that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. 

That research combines legal and illegal immigrants to calculate a crime rate for all immigrants, but the modern debate is over the crime rates of illegal immigrants.  Most people seem to accept that legal immigrants have lower crime rates than natives.  Measuring illegal immigrant crime rates is challenging for several reasons.  First, the American Community Survey does not ask which inmates in adult correctional facilities are illegal immigrants.  Second, federal data on the number of illegal immigrants incarcerated on the state and local level is recorded through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which is a combination of stocks and flows that is incomparable to any other measure of inmates.  Third, 49 states do not record the immigration statuses of those in prison or convicted.  Until recently, these data limitations allowed pundits to say anything about illegal immigrant crime without fear of being fact-checked. 

Cato scholars have since published numerous Immigration Research and Policy Briefs to shed light on this topic.  Michelangelo Landgrave, a doctoral student in political science at the University of California, Riverside, and I released a paper today that estimates that illegal immigrant incarceration rates are about half those of native-born Americans in 2017.  In the same year, legal immigrant incarceration rates are then again half those of illegal immigrants.  Those results are similar to what Landgrave and I published for the years 2014 and 2016.  We estimated illegal immigrant incarceration rates by using the same residual method that demographers use to estimate the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, only we also applied that method to the prison population.  We used the same method to also find that the incarceration rate for young illegal immigrants brought here as children and theoretically eligible for deferred action is slightly below those of native-born Americans.

The second strand of research from Cato looks at criminal conviction rates by immigration status in the state of Texas.  Unlike every other state, Texas keeps track of the immigration statuses of convicted criminals and the crimes that they committed.  Texas is a wonderful state to study because it borders Mexico, has a large illegal immigrant population, is a politically conservative state governed by Republicans, had no jurisdictions that limited its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in 2015, and it has a law and order reputation for strictly enforcing criminal laws.  If anything, Texas is more serious about enforcing laws against illegal immigrant criminals than other states.  But even here, illegal immigrant conviction rates are about half those of native-born Americans – without any controls for age, education, ethnicity, or any other characteristic.  The illegal immigrant conviction rates for homicide, larceny, and sex crimes are also below those of native-born Americans.  The criminal conviction rates for legal immigrants are the lowest of all.

El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.

I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also includes several large urbanized counties in Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  In total, 41 different cities and counties met the criteria, including El Paso.  I further relied on the FBI population estimates to calculate the crime rates.  Lastly, I set the base year of 2000 at 100, and compared the crime rates in El Paso over time with the average crime rates across the other 40 other jurisdictions.

These charts convinced me that I did not need to run any regressions nor was the story significantly than that which was already reported, with one exception.  First, the consistent findings.  Figure 1 shows the overall crime rate in El Paso versus the other 40 jurisdictions.  The gray shaded area is when the El Paso border fence was under construction.  Looks like crime continued to decline in El Paso and in the other cities after the wall was built at about the same rate as it declined prior the government’s construction of a border fence there. 

 

Figure 1: All Crime

 

Figure 2 shows the violent crime rates in El Paso relative to the other jurisdictions, with more of a pre-fence dip in violent crime in El Paso relative to other cities, followed with a bit of a rise before construction began.  The construction of the border fence there looks uneventful.  Figure 3 shows property crime rates and it looks even less impressive than the first two figures.

 

Figure 2: Violent Crime

 

Figure 3: Property Crime

 

Figure 4 shows the homicide rate in El Paso versus the 40 comparison cities – and it spiked more than a year after the government constructed the fence between El Paso and Mexico.  The homicide rate in El Paso was 2.8 per 100,000 in 2008 when fence construction began, fell to 1.9 in 2009 when fence construction, fell again to 0.8 in 2010, spiked to 2.4 in 2011, and climbed again to 3.4 in 2012 before coming back down.  The big decline happened right after the fence was built, but the huge spike also occurred when the fence was fully constructed.  Without a lot more econometrics, I’m unable to even provide hypotheses to explain the crash and spike in homicides in El Paso.  Illegal immigration is probably not a factor as the number of apprehensions in El Paso crashed, partly because of the border fence and partly because of the end of mass illegal Mexican immigration.  Homicide rates in San Diego and Tucson, two other border cities, do not show a similar pattern. 

 

Figure 4: Homicide

 

Regardless of the potential explanations for the spike in homicides shortly after the government completed the border fence in El Paso, President Trump’s story is even less true than has been reported by others – at least according to the empirical standards of this public debate.  Please don’t take this post or what I wrote here as arguing that the border fence in El Paso caused the spike in homicides, as I see no evidence to support that claim and I have not carried out nearly enough statistical work on this issue to confidently state that.  

Crime Along the Mexican Border Is Lower Than in the Rest of the Country

Crime along the border and national security will be major themes in President Trump’s upcoming address where he will likely make the case for declaring a national emergency to build his wall.  Shocking images and anecdotes of crime along the border fuel this narrative, but rarely are facts deployed to make the case.  We’ve addressed the terrorism and crime arguments frequently, but only rarely touch on border crime.  Border counties have far less crime per capita than American counties that are not along the border. 

If the entire United States in 2017 had crime rates identical to those in counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, there would have been 5,720 fewer homicides, 159,036 fewer property crimes, and 99,205 fewer violent crimes across the entire country.  If the entire United States had crime rates as low as those along the border in 2017, then the number of homicides would have been 33.8 percent lower, property crimes would have been 2.1 percent lower, and violent crimes would have dropped 8 percent.

Table 1

Crime Rates by Counties in 2017, per 100,000

  Violent Crime Rate Property Crime Rate Homicide Rate
Border counties 347.8 2,207.1 3.4
Non-border counties 378.6 2,256.4 5.2
United States 377.8 2,255.2 5.1

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports 2017.

The numbers in Table 1 come from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2017 that we obtained via a special request from the FBI.  The crime rates are organized by county, with all crimes reported to sub-county agencies added up using county codes from the FBI’s 2012 Law Enforcement Agency Identifiers Crosswalk.  The population figures also come from the FBI and are based on the intercensal reports obtained by the FBI from the Census Bureau.  The 23 border counties are lumped together as one and compared to the non-border counties. The numbers for the entire United States are in the last row. 

Sheriff Ronny Dodson of Brewster County Texas said, “A lot of politicians are running on securing the border.  One’s got a six point plan, one’s got a nine point plan. They’re throwing tons of money at this border. I wish they’d just shut up about it.”  Dodson went on to say, “I think they’re [politicians] just throwing money at the border for nothing. I think people on the interior see all these shows about the border where there’s violence.” 

Although Dodson’s comment is just rhetoric, there is a lot more empirical support for his claims than there is for those who claim that there is a border crime crisis.

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