Tag: illegal immigrants

H-2 Visas Reduced Mexican Illegal Immigration

Government data for the month of June show a substantial decrease in the number of immigrants apprehended along the Southwest border.  Much of this decline is probably due to extra Mexican immigration enforcement prompted by President Trump’s threat of imposing tariffs on Mexican imports if they don’t reduce the surge of Central Americans from the Northern Triangle.

Lost in all of this debate over the Northern Triangle migrants arriving at the border is that fact that Mexican arrivals have collapsed in recent years.  If we understand what caused the collapse in Mexican arrivals, then the government should apply that lesson to halt the flow of Northern Triangle illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.  The vast increase in the number of H-2 guest worker visas issued to Mexicans can explain a large percentage of the decrease in Mexican illegal immigrants.  Increasing the numbers for Northern Triangle migrants will likely have a similar negative effect on their arrivals.

Figure 1 shows the tradeoff between the number of Mexicans apprehended on the Southwest border and the number of H-2 visas issued to Mexicans from 2000-2018.  There is a clear negative relationship between the two variables. 


Figure 1

Apprehensions of Mexicans on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans


Source: U.S. Department of State and U.S. Border Patrol. 


Figure 2 is similar, but instead shows the number of Mexican apprehensions per Border Patrol agent and the number of H-2 visas issued to Mexicans.  Figures 1 and 2 are very similar, but the drop off in Mexican apprehensions is a little faster when the number of Border Patrol agents is controlled for in Figure 2.


Figure 2

Apprehensions of Mexicans Per Border Patrol Agent on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans


Source: U.S. Department of State and U.S. Border Patrol. 


Figures 3 and 4 show the strong negative relationship between the number of Mexican apprehensions and the number of H-2 visas issued to Mexicans, where the latter figure controls for the number of Border Patrol agents and the former does not.


Figure 3

Apprehensions of Mexicans on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans


Source: U.S. Department of State and U.S. Border Patrol. 


Figure 4

Apprehensions of Mexicans Per Border Patrol Agent on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans


Source: U.S. Department of State and U.S. Border Patrol. 


Table 1 are the results of a regression where the dependent variable is the number of Mexicans apprehended on the Southwest border and the independent variables are the number of H-2 visas issued to Mexicans and the number of Border Patrol agents per year, all logged.  Independent variables are those that seek to explain variation in the dependent variable, so we are trying to see if changes in the number of apprehensions is correlated with changes in the number of H-2 visas and Border Patrol agents.  Since we expect serial correlation to be an issue in these time series, we ran Breusch-Godfrey tests for serial correlation for each model.  In both cases we find evidence for serial correlation in the regression residuals, therefore we compute Newey-West standard errors as a correction. 

From 2000-2018, a 1 percent increase in the number of H-2 visas for Mexicans is associated with a 1.04 percent decline in the number of Mexicans apprehended on average.  At the same time, a 1 percent increase in the number of Border Patrol agents is correlated with a 1.4 percent decline in the number of Mexicans apprehensions.  If there is a causal relationship between the increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and decline in apprehensions, it is due to deterrence.  Both findings are significant at the 1 percent level.  These are both consistent with other findings, but it’s important to note that the median starting salary for a Border Patrol agent is $55,863, they take about a year to train, and private firms are having a difficult time hiring more when the unemployment rate is so low

If the goal is to get control of the border by cutting illegal immigration, it is much simpler and cheaper to issue more H-2 visas than to hire more Border Patrol agents.  Since H-2 visas increase economic production in the United States and Border Patrol agents decrease it by consuming taxpayer resources that would otherwise be used by the private sector, H-2 visas have been a much more cost-effective way to cut Mexican illegal immigration than hiring more Border Patrol agents.

These results imply that, for the year 2018, an additional 2,426 H-2 visas issued to Mexicans would have cut the number of illegal Mexican immigrants apprehended by 1,584 – on average.  The total cost to taxpayers of that would be zero, with an increase in total tax payments because the H-2 workers would provide taxable goods and services in the United States.  On the other hand, for the year 2018, these findings imply that hiring an additional 166 Border Patrol agents would have cut the number of Mexican apprehensions by 2,132 that year – at a total additional salary cost of $9,277,727 that year.  American taxpayers can either pay $4,353 per additional Mexican apprehension in extra Border Patrol wages – which doesn’t include any of the other large costs of immigration enforcement – or decrease the numbers by issuing more H-2 visas with a net-positive fiscal impact. 


Table 1

Apprehensions of Mexicans on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans



Table 2 is the same regression as described above, except the dependent variable is the logged number of Mexican apprehensions per Border Patrol agent and the only independent variable is the logged number of H-2 visas for Mexicans.  A 1 percent increase in the number of H-2 visas for Mexicans cuts the number of apprehensions per border patrol agent by 2.2 percent.  These regressions are all significant at the 1 percent.  We also ran the regressions for Tables 1 and 2 that included the U.S. unemployment rate as a control variable, but it didn’t have much of an effect.


Table 2

Apprehensions of Mexicans Per Border Patrol Agent on the Southwest Border and H-2 Visas Issued to Mexicans



For those who think that the Northern Triangle migrants apprehended on the Southwest border are asylum seekers, these findings will be largely irrelevant.  If people are coming because their lives are threatened, then an expansion of H-2 visas for them won’t have much of an effect on the number of asylum seekers arriving at the border.  If, on the other hand, you believe that the flow of people from the Northern Triangle is largely driven by economics, then you should support a vast increase in the number of H-2 visas for workers from the Northern Triangle – just like David North from the Center for Immigration Studies does.

Importantly though, the government should not increase the number of H-2 visas for those from the Northern Triangle by decreasing those available to Mexicans.  That would only increase Mexican illegal immigration.

More H-2 visas for Mexicans cheaply and effectively cut the number of illegal Mexican immigrants coming over the border without the large and recurring taxpayer cost of hiring more Border Patrol agents.  The government should at least try to expand the number of H-2 visas to workers from the Northern Triangle, perhaps by exempting them from the H-2B numerical cap, before taking further costly actions to increase border security.   

Illegal Immigrants – and Other Non-Citizens – Should Not Receive Government Healthcare

Last week during one of their debates, all Democratic primary candidates supported government health care for illegal immigrants. This type of position is extremely damaging politically and, if enacted, would unnecessarily burden taxpayers for likely zero improvements in health outcomes. I expect the eventual Democratic candidate for president to not support this type of proposal, but it should be nipped in the bud.

After the debate, Democratic candidate Julian Castro argued that extending government health care to illegal immigrants would not be a big deal. “[W]e already pay for the health care of undocumented immigrants,” Castro said. “It’s called the emergency room. People show up in the emergency room and they get care, as they should.” It is true that some illegal immigrants use emergency room services thanks to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act and to Emergency Medicaid, but Castro leaned heavily into a stereotype often used by nativists. According to a paper published in the journal Health Affairs, illegal immigrants between the ages of 18-64 consumed about $1.1 billion in government healthcare benefits in 2006 – about 0.13 percent of the approximately $867 billion in government healthcare expenditures that year. That’s a fraction of the cost that would be imposed on American taxpayers by extending nationalized health care to all illegal immigrants. So, with all due respect to Mr. Castro, we do not already pay for their health care just because some illegal immigrants visit emergency rooms at government expense.      

One of the reasons why immigrants individually consume so much less welfare than native-born Americans is that many of them do not have legal access to these benefits. Cato scholars have proposed making these welfare restrictions even stricter to deny benefits to all non-citizens and to not count work credit toward entitlements until immigrants are naturalized citizens – what the late Bill Niskanen called “build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country.”

Many American voters are concerned about immigrant consumption of welfare benefits. In a 2017 poll, 28 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “Immigration detracts from our character and weakens the United States because it puts too many burdens on government services, causes language barriers, and creates housing problems [emphasis added].” That level of concern exists under current laws that restrict non-citizen access to benefits and even chill eligible non-citizen participation. I’d expect that poll result to worsen if new immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, were put on government health care program.

Extending government health care to illegal immigrants and other new immigrants would probably not improve healthcare outcomes for immigrants. According to the wonderful The Integration of Immigrants into American Society report published by the National Academies of Sciences, immigrants already have better infant, child, and adult health outcomes than native-born Americans, while also having less access to welfare benefits like Medicaid. Immigrants also live about 3.4 years longer than native-born Americans do. Illegal Mexican immigrants had an average of 1.6 fewer physician visits per year compared to native-born Americans of Mexican descent. Other illegal Hispanic immigrants made an average of 2.1 fewer visits to doctors per year than their native-born counterparts.  Illegal immigrants are about half as likely to have chronic healthcare problems than native-born Americans. Overall per capita health care spending was 55 percent lower for immigrants than for native-born Americans. 

Immigrants also lower the cost of other portions of the health care system. In 2014, immigrants paid 12.6 percent of all premiums to private health insurers but accounted for only 9.1 percent of all insurer expenditures. Immigrants’ annual premiums exceeded their health care expenditures by $1,123 per enrollee, for a total of $24.7 billion. That offset the deficit of $163 per native-born enrollee. The immigrant net-subsidy persisted even after ten years of residence in the United States. 

From 2002-2009, immigrants subsidized Medicare as they made 14.7 percent of contributions but only consumed 7.9 percent of expenditures, for a $13.8 billion annual surplus. By comparison, native-born Americans consumed $30.9 billion more in Medicare than they contributed annually. Among Medicare enrollees, average expenditures were $1,465 lower for immigrants than for native-born Americans, for a difference of $3,923 to $5,388. From 2000 to 2011, illegal immigrants contributed $2.2 to $3.8 billion more than they withdrew annually in Medicare benefits (a total surplus of $35.1 billion). If illegal immigrants had neither contributed to nor withdrawn from the Medicare Trust Fund during those 11 years, it would become insolvent 1 year earlier than currently predicted – in 2029 instead of 2030.

American taxpayers should not have to pay for the health care costs of other Americans, let alone for non-citizens. For those reading this post who are very concerned about the well-being of immigrants, think of what would happen to public support for legal immigration if welfare benefits were extended in this way.  Immigrants come here primarily for economic opportunity, not for government health insurance. They tend to be healthier than native-born Americans and lower the price of health care for others as a result – but the point would likely change if the laws were different. Let’s not build public support for reducing legal immigration, or increase reluctance to expand it, by extending government health care, at enormous public cost, to people who don’t need it.

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.   

FAIR’s Confused Criticism of Our Immigration Crime Research

Spencer Raley at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently wrote a criticism of a recent Cato brief that estimates illegal immigrant incarceration rates in the United States.  Much of Raley’s critique is perplexing as following his methodology advice would not only lead to an erroneous result but it would reduce illegal immigrant incarceration rates – which is the opposite result that he and his organization desire.  Raley’s points are quoted below, my responses follow.

The authors rely on faulty, voluntary data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).  Even mainstream organizations like Pew Research acknowledge that many illegal aliens are slow to volunteer information about themselves to the federal government.  That’s why reputable research organizations assume a certain undercount when relying on ACS data.  Hesitation to self-report personal information is only increased when surveys include questions about criminal history. So, from the start, the primary source used in this study will yield an undercount of incarcerated illegal aliens because it relies on self-reported data.

The responses of prisoners are recorded by Census officials who interview a sample under the supervision of prison officials who also supply information like immigration status and country of birth.  Although it’s easy for people outside of prison to avoid a Census official, it’s quite difficult for a prisoner to do so if he or she has been selected for an interview by the ACS.  Since the ACS doesn’t ask about the respondent’s criminal histories, Raley’s criticism here is perplexing.  If anything, using the ACS would yield an undercount of the illegal immigrant population – which would increase the illegal immigrant incarceration rate in our brief. 

They also misstate illegal alien crime data from Texas. The authors sliced and diced data from Texas’ Department of Public Safety, claiming that the original data offered by the state was far too high, and that illegal aliens in Texas are half as likely to be incarcerated as U.S. citizens. The real numbers, however, tell a different story. Based on data compiled between June 2011 and February 2019, 25,000 illegal aliens are booked into Texas state and local jails annually, on average.

Raley makes several errors in summarizing my Texas crime research.  First, I didn’t “slice and dice” any data from Texas.  I took the numbers released by the Texas Department of Public Safety, divided them by the relevant subpopulation of Texas in 2015, and then multiplied the result by 100,000 to get a criminal conviction rate.  Second, I didn’t compare illegal immigrants to U.S. citizens.  I compared illegal immigrants to native-born Americans and legal immigrants separately.  Third, my Texas study did not analyze incarceration rates.  My Texas study looked at criminal conviction rates.  Incarceration rates and criminal conviction rates are different. 

Raley’s other criticisms are answered by reading the methodology section of our brief.  This is the most relevant section here which explains why we looked at the 18-54 population:

Another limitation of the ACS data is that not all inmates in group quarters are in correctional facilities. Although most inmates in the public-use microdata version of the ACS are in correctional facilities, the data also include those in mental health and elderly care institutions, as well as those in institutions for people with disabilities. These inclusions add ambiguity to our findings about the illegal immigrant population but not about the immigrant population as a whole, because the ACS releases macrodemographic snapshots of inmates in correctional facilities, which allows us to check our work.

The ambiguity in illegal immigrant incarceration rates mentioned above prompted us to narrow the age range to those who are ages 18-54. This age range excludes most inmates in mental health and retirement facilities. Few prisoners are under age 18, many in mental health facilities are juveniles, and many of those over age 54 are in elderly care institutions. Additionally, few illegal immigrants are elderly, whereas those in elderly care institutions are typically over age 54. As a result, narrowing the age range does not exclude many individuals from our analysis. We are more confident that our methods do not cut out many prisoners because winnowing the 18-54 age range reduces their numbers to about 4.5 percent above that of the ACS snapshot. Natives in our results include both those born in the United States and those born abroad to American parents.


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.

FAIR SCAAP Crime Report Has Many Serious Problems

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently released a report on illegal immigrant incarceration rates that is poorly contrived and terribly executed.  FAIR uses the number of illegal immigrants counted under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which compensates local and state governments for incarcerating some illegal immigrants, to calculate the illegal immigrant incarceration rate.  FAIR finds that illegal immigrants, as measured by the number of SCAAP aliens, are incarcerated at much higher rates than natives and legal immigrants according to their faulty methods. 

There are many problems with FAIR’s report. 

The first problem is that it doesn’t state what year or period of years that it is analyzing.  I can’t even work backward because their citations only indicate when they accessed the relevant data, not which annual data they accessed.  This means that it would take many dozens of hours of guesswork to recreate their work.

The second problem with using SCAAP data is that they are the oddest crime data.  The SCAAP aliens are a measure of the stock and flow of illegal immigrants into state and local correctional facilities over a year.  SCAAP is used to compensate local communities and states for the costs of incarcerating some illegal immigrants, it is not designed to be used to estimate illegal immigrant incarceration rates.  As a result, the normal operation of dividing the number of prisoners who are in SCAAP by the stock of all prisoners to calculate a rate is not useful here because the proper denominator is the stock of the prison population at the beginning of a year plus the number of people admitted throughout the rest of that year.  However, FAIR uses just the stock of the population in state prisons at the end of the year plus estimates from a private group for the number of people incarcerated in local facilities.  FAIR does not add the flow to the stock to estimate a proper denominator. 

As a result, there is no correct way to use SCAAP data to estimate incarceration rates because there is not a similar number published by the government that can serve as a denominator.  Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), one can estimate a flow plus stock denominator for some years without eliminating the significant problem of overcounting.  Although I caution against drawing a lesson from this back of the envelope calculation, Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times piqued my curiosity and I could not resist.  This is the only way to use SCAAP data to estimate illegal immigrant incarceration rates in state prisons.  

My back of the envelope calculation uses only the state-level incarceration numbers and excludes the number of local SCAAP prisoners and people jailed on the local level.  This is because the BJS does not collect the local numbers and they are not available for many years.  The number of illegal immigrants nationwide comes from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while the number of non-illegal immigrants (legal immigrants and native-born Americans) comes from the American Community Survey.  I merely divided the number of SCAAP aliens nationwide who were incarcerated and who entered state correctional facilities by the number of illegal immigrants nationwide in each year.  I then compared that rate to the same rate for non-illegal immigrants who were in correctional institutions that year or that entered them.  Lastly, I presented the figure per 100,000 for each subpopulation because that is common in the crime literature.

Figure 1 shows the nationwide results: Illegal immigrants in the SCAAP program are incarcerated at a lower rate than non-illegal immigrants.  Just to reiterate, this is back-of-the-envelope calculation with significant problems.  It excludes all prisoners incarcerated on the federal and local levels.  There is a lot of double counting.  SCAAP does not count all illegal immigrants.  The non-illegal immigrant number is a combination of legal immigrants and native-born Americans, which makes the latter look more peaceful and the former more dangerous than they really are.  These figures underestimate the incarceration rates for illegal immigrants and non-illegal immigrants


Figure 1
Illegal Immigrants and Non-Illegal Immigrant SCAAP-Adjusted Incarceration Rates, Per 100,000


Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Community Survey, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Note: The per 100,000 is for each subpopulation. 


The SCAAP figures are not refined enough to use for estimating an illegal immigrant incarceration rate because there is not a good enough denominator available.  However, using the best data and methods available still shows that the nation-wide incarceration rate for SCAAP aliens is below that of non-illegal immigrants – which includes native-born Americans and legal immigrants.  FAIR’s report is a prime example of poor scholarship, but the authors are only partly to blame.  The lack of adequate crime and incarceration data make such desperate attempts tempting.  

Illegal Immigrant Conviction Rates Are Low, Even When Factoring in Recidivism

 Over the last two years, Cato has published three Immigration Research and Policy Briefs on illegal immigrant criminality.  In each one, we found that illegal immigrants have lower criminal conviction rates in the state of Texas and lower nationwide incarceration rates relative to native-born Americans.  Although nobody has criticized our methods or the data, we answer other criticisms that arise.

The best recent criticism is that illegal immigrant conviction rates are low because they are deported after they serve their sentences, which reduces their recidivism rates relative to native-born Americans who cannot be deported after being released from prison.  Thus, the illegal immigrant incarceration or conviction rates are lower than those of native-born Americans because it is more difficult for them to recidivate as they would have to enter the country illegally again to do so.  This has been a difficult criticism to address as data limitations are severe, but we attempted to do so after making some assumptions.  We focused on comparing first-time criminal conviction rates.

We estimate that native-born Texans had a first-time criminal conviction rate of 683 per 100,000 natives in 2016.  In the same year, we estimate that illegal immigrants had a first-time criminal conviction rate of 462 per 100,000 illegal immigrants – 32 percent below that of native-born Americans.  Thus, about 36 percent of the gap that we observed in criminal conviction rates between illegal immigrants and native-born Americans can be explained by lower illegal immigrant recidivism that is likely due to their deportation. 

This question could have been easily resolved by comparing the immigration statuses of first-time offenders.  Of course, such data do not exist.  Regardless, this is still an important question even if our estimate results from a back of the envelope estimate.  You can judge for yourself how we came to this estimate.  This is how we did it. 

First, we used the Arizona state prison data from 2016 for those admitted to state prison that year.  Of U.S. citizens sent to prison that year, 58 percent had previously been to prison at some point since 1984.  The subpopulation of deportable non-citizens, which includes illegal immigrants but is not limited to them, had a recidivism rate of 47 percent – below those of U.S. citizens, but not that much below.