January 11, 2020 1:29PM

Refugees in Texas

On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ® sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo stating that Texas would not accept any refugees going forward. Governor Abbott is the first governor to request that refugees not be settled in his state since President Trump announced that states and localities would now have to opt in to receive refugees. Texas was the first state to refuse refugees after 42 other states decided to continue to accept them.

Trump’s new executive order requires states and localities to opt in to accept refugees, which is a clear ploy to get them to refuse. There’s no good reason for that as Trump reduced the nationwide number unilaterally, a power given to the president by a Congress that has decided that it doesn’t want to make law anymore, from 84,994 settled in fiscal year 2016 to a cap of just 18,000 to be resettled in FY 2020.

Texas’ refusal to settle refugees won’t reduce the total number settled in the United States, it will just remove Texas from the list of locations where they can settle initially. And that’s significant, because 2,457 refugees were resettled in Texas last year, accounting for 8.1 percent of all refugees resettled in the United States. Of the 978,939 refugees resettled in the United States since 2002, about 9 percent, or 88,572 refugees, were resettled in Texas.

Of course, refugees can move to Texas after they get to the United States but they will have to give up certain public benefits. Since Texas has resettled so many refugees over the decades, many likely will move there to take advantage of the job opportunities and large populations of coethnics which, incidentally, seem to help integration and assimilation. Governor Abbott’s decision changes the initial distribution of refuges, with less impact on their final location.

Ultimately, Governor Abbott’s decision to block refugees in his state is shortsighted. At some point in the future, refugees will be legally resettled in Texas and that state’s Republican Party will pretend that a governor from their own party never blocked them in the first place.

There are a lot of problems with refugee resettlement in the United States, but blocking their resettlement is a cure worse than any mild ailment. Abbott’s decision does nothing to reduce the total number of refugees in the United States, but it certainly makes the Texas state government look bad.

February 1, 2019 9:18AM

Response to Barry Latzer’s Criticism of “Criminal Immigrants in Texas”

Barry Latzer, Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wrote a criticism of Cato’s brief on the homicide conviction rate for illegal immigrants in Texas.  My research brief found that the illegal immigrant homicide conviction rate in Texas in 2015 was 2.6 per 100,000 illegal immigrants, which is below the 3.1 per 100,000 rate for native-born Americans, but higher than the 1 per 100,000 rate for legal immigrants.  Professor Latzer mischaracterized my findings and made some other errors that I will discuss below.  His points are in quotes and my responses follow:

“Critics of illegal immigration argue that the crime rates of illegal aliens are higher than those of the American population generally, or at least of legal immigrants.  The New York Times has denied that illegals commit more crime than other groups, but the paper bases its claim on a Cato Institute study that relies on questionable data [emphasis added].”

Latzer linked to a New York Times piece that says that illegal immigrants have lower conviction and arrest rates “than those for native-born Americans for most crimes.”  The New York Times piece did not use Cato’s research to claim that other groups like legal immigrants have a lower criminal conviction or arrest rates.  The January 15, 2019 front page of the New York Times presented Cato’s findings in a graph that clearly showed that the legal immigrant criminal conviction rate was below that for illegal immigrants and that both rates were below those of native-born Americans. 

Latzer also claimed that I “relied on questionable data” to calculate the Texas illegal immigrant conviction rates.  That’s a very odd thing to write as Latzer relied on the exact same source as I did: the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).  I wrote in footnote six of my brief that I would make the data available to anybody who asked and then provided my email address.     

The data that DPS sent me break down the annual number of homicide convictions by the immigration status of the offender for each year.  The Texas DPS website does not provide the number of annualized homicide convictions for illegal immigrants.  Latzer appears, although I’m not entirely sure, to have worked backward from numbers provided on the Texas DPS website to create an annual average of the number of homicide convictions over many years, which is much less precise as the number of homicides does fluctuate annually as does the number of illegal immigrants in a state.  The latter number is also critical to estimating the homicide conviction rate.  It is especially important to use the accurate annual number of homicides as the nationwide homicide rate per 100,000 American residents rose from a low of 4.5 in 2014 to a high of 5.4 in 2016.

At this point, it is important to explain how I calculated the criminal conviction rates for illegal immigrants, native-born Americans, and legal immigrants.  I took the number of criminal convictions for each group (the numerator) and divided them by the population of each group (the denominator).  I then multiplied the result by 100,000 to display the number of criminal convictions per 100,000 for each sub-population – which is standard when discussing crime rates.  Both the numerator and the denominator are vital to calculating an accurate criminal conviction or crime rate.

According to the Texas DPS data, there were 785 total homicide convictions in Texas in 2015. Of those, native-born Americans were convicted of 709 homicides, illegal immigrants were convicted of 46 homicides, and legal immigrants were convicted of 30 homicides.  After we published our brief, the Texas DPS reported that Texas prisons found 63 additional illegal immigrants over the June 1, 2011 to December 31, 2018 period who were convicted of homicide but not counted as illegal immigrants. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) recently sent me the number of incarcerated individuals by legal status, but they appear to count only immigrants with an ICE hold, which also includes immigrants who were legally present in the United States at the time of their arrest but who then lost their legal status when they convicted, as illegal immigrants.  This is an important difference as the Texas DPS counts the immigration status of the offender at the time of arrest, not after conviction when the offender could potentially lose his lawful immigration status as a result of his conviction.  Thus, the TDCJ counts more illegal immigrants in prison because they are including criminals who were legal immigrants at the time of their arrest and who lost their lawful status after they were convicted due to their conviction.  As a result, the additional homicides committed by illegal immigrants from TDCJ that Texas DPS counts that Latzer mentions were legally present in the United States when they committed their crimes.  Foreign-born people who are lawfully present in the United States, but who are not naturalized, mostly lose their lawful immigration status and become eligible for deportation upon conviction.  It makes no sense to include those folks who are convicted of crimes in any measurement of illegal immigrant criminality because they were legal immigrants when they committed their crimes

Let me make an analogy to show why the TDCJ numbers shouldn’t count toward illegal immigrant criminality based on their count.  If a police officer is arrested for a criminal offense and then convicted for that offense and incarcerated, he loses his job when he is convicted (if not before).  But since he was still a police officer when he was arrested, we must still count his crime as one committed by a police officer. 

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January 7, 2019 12:45PM

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. 

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August 22, 2018 9:52AM

The Murder of Mollie Tibbetts and Illegal Immigrant Crime: The Facts

Yesterday, authorities in Iowa charged 24‐​year old Cristhian Bahena Rivera with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts. Facts in these types of cases come out slowly and some details, substantive or minor, may change in the months ahead that could alter the correct view of this case. But nothing can change the fact that the murder of Tibbetts was a brutal and unforgivable act and that the murderer should be punished to the full extent of the law. Rivera is charged with that murder and there is a lot of evidence to support a conviction. 

This terrible murder is already feeding into a political firestorm. People with a political axe to grind, those who want to distract from the recent conviction of Paul Manafort and plea deal for Michael Cohen, and partisans who want to compare Tibbetts’ murder to the shooting of Kate Steinle in an effort to impact the upcoming November elections are already using the tragic murder of Tibbetts as an argument for increasing the enforcement of immigration laws against people who aren’t charged with murder or any real crime except violating international labor market regulations (immigration laws). They want to convict all illegal immigrants of this murder in the court of public opinion, not just the actual murderer. 

Scarce law enforcement resources should be devoted to solving and deterring the most serious crimes regardless of who commits them. That is the best policy for saving American lives. That means that increased enforcement of our immigration laws is not a good way to prevent murders. Illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes in the United States than native‐​born AmericansTexas is the only state that keeps data on the number of convictions of illegal immigrants for specific crimes (I sent versions of Public Interest Requests to every state). In Texas in 2015, the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16 percent lower below that of native‐​born Americans. That is little consolation to the victims and their families, but the population of illegal immigrants is less likely to be convicted of murder than native‐​born Americans in Texas. If nationwide incarceration rates by immigration status are any clue, that trend likely holds nationwide. 

I recently received new data from Texas on the number of convictions by crime and immigration status as well as the number of individuals convicted (they are slightly different). This Texas data is the best data that we have on the commission of murder by immigrants by specific legal status. In 2016, 746 native‐​born Texans, 32 illegal immigrants, and 28 legal immigrants were convicted of homicide. In that year, the homicide conviction rate for native‐​born Americans is Texas was 3.2 per 100,000 natives while it was 1.8 per 100,000 illegal immigrants and 0.9 per 100,000 legal immigrants (Figure 1). The illegal immigrant conviction rate for homicide was 44 percent below that of native‐​born Americans in 2016 in Texas. 

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April 23, 2018 11:32AM

Criminal Conviction Rates in Texas in 2016

Cato published my recent Immigration Research and Policy Brief that relied on Texas state criminal data to compare the conviction rates of native‐​born Americans, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants. That Texas state data was of such high quality that I was even able to compare conviction rates by the type of crime. The result was that in 2015 the criminal conviction and arrest rates for illegal immigrants were below that of native‐​born Americans for virtually all crimes including homicide, sexual assault, and larceny. This is just further evidence that illegal immigrants are less crime‐​prone than native‐​born Americans. I had to limit my Brief to focus on convictions only in 2015, although I also had the Texas conviction data for 2016, because there were no estimates of the illegal immigrant population statewide for the latter year. 

Since Cato published my brief in February, the estimable Center for Migration Studies published an update of the estimated number of illegal immigrants in Texas for 2016. The following graphs and numbers are the conviction rates for native‐​born Americans, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants in the state of Texas in 2016. The conviction rate is the number of convictions per group (native, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) divided by the number of Texas residents in each group multiplied by 100,000. The final multiplication step produces the conviction rate per 100,000 residents in each subpopulation, which is how criminologists and the governments portray incarceration, crime, and conviction rates. This is the best way to portray relative crime rates as it controls the different size of the subpopulations.

The criminal conviction rate for native‐​born Americans in Texas was 2,116 per 100,000 natives in 2016 (Figure 1). The native‐​born criminal conviction rate was thus 2.4 times as high as the criminal conviction rate for illegal immigrants in that year and 7.2 times as high as that of legal immigrants. 

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January 9, 2017 10:50AM

E‑Verify Gaining Ground in Texas

Texas State Senator Charles Schwertner (R‑Georgetown) recently filed SB 23, a bill that would put into statute Governor Rick Perry’s executive order mandating E‑Verify for all state contractors and force all state contracts to include a paragraph specifying that they must participate in the program. There’s a good faith exemption, in case the contractor receives inaccurate information from the E‑Verify system (false confirmations that later come to light). SB 23 adds an enforcement mechanism that Governor Perry’s executive order lacked. Under the proposed law, a contractor’s failure to use E‑Verify would bar them from receiving state contracts for five years and make the state comptroller responsible for enforcement. The legislature already mandated E‑Verify for state agencies and universities. 

SB 23 won’t much affect Texas because it probably won’t be enforced. Nebraska mandates E‑Verify for all public contractors, but a 2011 Nebraska report found that only 23 percent of registered state contractors were even enrolled in the system. If Texas is as uninterested in enforcing E‑Verify as Nebraska, then the results will be similar. 

The real damage from SB 23 is that it brings Texas one step close to universally mandated E‑Verify and all of its systematic problems. E‑Verify is a government run system that is free for the user if you exclude the taxes, time, and money spent on maintaining it, using it, and resolving any identification problems that arise. E‑Verify also doesn’t work well, as accuracy rates are poor, there are many ways for illegal workers to obtain SSNs from deceased Americans to fool the system, and many employers in states where the system is mandated don’t bother to use it at all. Furthermore, E‑Verify doesn’t dim the job magnetE‑Verify is an expensive system that doesn’t work.

SB 23 is a stepping stone toward universal mandated E‑Verify in Texas and all of the problems it creates. For that reason alone, SB 23 is a rotten deal for Texans. 

Special thanks to Scott Platton for his help in researching this blog post.

June 22, 2016 4:31PM

Update on Unaccompanied Alien Children

A new Congressional Research Service report provides a handy overview of the current state of knowledge surrounding Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) apprehended on the Southwest border.  Many Central American children and other family members have crossed the border and sought asylum in the United States.

UAC apprehensions so far in 2016 exceed those apprehended in 2015 but they are still below the peak year of 2014 (See Figure 1). 

Figure 1

Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehensions


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Source: Customs and Border Protection.

The number of apprehensions is up this year on a monthly basis.  The UAC are a small fraction of the total apprehensions (Figure 2)

Figure 2

All Apprehensions and UAC

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Source: Customs and Border Protection.

UAC apprehensions are concentrated in just a few border sectors, most are entering through Texas (Figure 3).  A map of the border patrol sectors puts the flow in perspective (Figure 4).    

Figure 3

UAC Apprehensions by Border Sector


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Source: Customs and Border Protection.

Figure 4

Border Patrol Sectors

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Source: Customs and Border Protection. 

If the UAC could instead receive a worker visa or green card then they would not have to brave the difficult trip through Mexico from Central America and endure uncertainty and detention once they reach the United States.  Border Patrol wouldn’t have to waste their time apprehending these folks but could instead focus on stopping actual violent and property crime.  The lack of a legal immigration alternative for the UACs and their family already in the United States has created this situation.  An expanded legal immigration system can fix it.