President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deport most illegal immigrants who encounter law enforcement, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is attempting to withhold federal funds from local police departments that do not cooperate with DHS in that effort.1 Underlying both actions is the belief that illegal immigrants are a significant source of crime.2 This brief uses Texas Department of Public Safety data to measure the conviction and arrest rates of illegal immigrants by crime. In Texas in 2015, the criminal conviction and arrest rates for immigrants were well below those of native‐born Americans. Moreover, the conviction and arrest rates for illegal immigrants were lower than those for native‐born Americans. This result holds for most crimes.
The vast majority of research finds that immigrants do not increase local crime rates and that they are less likely to cause crime and less likely to be incarcerated than their native‐born peers.3 There is less research on illegal immigrant criminality, but what research there is shows that illegal immigrants have lower incarceration rates nationwide and in the state of Texas relative to native‐born Americans, although they have the same rates of re‐arrest in Los Angeles County.4 Consistent with those findings, immigration enforcement programs targeting illegal immigrant criminals have no effect on local crime rates, which indicates that they are about as crime prone as other residents.5
This brief uses data from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) obtained through a Public Information Act (PIA) request.6 The Texas DPS data separately show the number of convictions and arrests of illegal and legal immigrants for 44 and 46 different crimes, respectively, in the state of Texas by year from January 1, 2011, to November 15, 2017. This brief reports the conviction and arrest rates for each subpopulation of natives, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, and all immigrants combined. This allows for a comparison of conviction and arrest rates between these subpopulations. This brief additionally displays conviction and arrest rates by select crimes.
Texas has these data because its law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that check the biometrics of arrestees in the state.7 The Texas DPS keeps the results of these DHS checks that then allow a more direct look at immigrant criminality by immigration status.8 The DPS data released by the PIA request revealed slightly more arrests in 2015 than were reported by another publicly available DPS report for the same year.9 The quality of the Texas DPS data is excellent and, if it errs, it is likely to overcount the convictions and arrests of illegal immigrants because it counts more total arrests than another DPS source.
This brief reports the conviction and arrest rates for 2015 because that is the most recent year for which estimates are available for the sizes of the legal immigrant, native‐born, and illegal immigrant populations residing in the state of Texas.10 The numbers in this brief do not represent the total number of criminal immigrants in the state of Texas in 2015, but merely the number of convictions and arrests of illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, and natives. There were 22,797,819 native‐born Americans, 1,758,199 illegal immigrants, and 2,913,096 legal immigrants living in Texas in 2015.11 In that year, natives made up about 83 percent of the Texas population, illegal immigrants about 6.4 percent of the population, and legal immigrants about 10.6 percent. The conviction and arrest rates for the entire period of January 1, 2011, through November 15, 2017, are nearly identical to those of 2015, so the choice of year makes little difference. The DPS data that this brief analyzes are for all arrests and convictions that occurred in the year 2015, regardless of the year in which the crime was actually committed.
Controlling for the size of the population is essential to comparing relative conviction and arrest rates between groups. Thus, government agencies generally report the conviction rate as the number of convictions per 100,000 members of that particular group.12 The three subgroups this brief analyzes are illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, and native‐born Americans. It is important to note that the Texas DPS data report the number of convictions and arrests, not the number of people actually convicted or arrested. For instance, if a Texas court convicts a single person of two different offenses or of the same offense twice, then the Texas DPS data will count that as two convictions.
Texas is an ideal state to study criminality by immigration status for multiple reasons: the state of Texas borders Mexico; it has a large illegal immigrant population; it is a politically conservative state governed by Republicans; in 2015 it did not have jurisdictions that limited its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement; and it has a law and order reputation for severely enforcing its criminal laws.
Natives were convicted of 409,708 crimes, illegal immigrants were convicted of 15,803 crimes, and legal immigrants were convicted of 17,785 crimes in Texas in 2015. Thus, there were 1,797 criminal convictions of natives for every 100,000 natives, 899 criminal convictions of illegal immigrants for every 100,000 illegal immigrants, and 611 criminal convictions of legal immigrants for every 100,000 legal immigrants (Figure 1). As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 50 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native‐born Americans in Texas in 2015. The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 66 percent below the native‐born rate.
Homicides supposedly committed by illegal immigrants garner the most public attention.13 On November 30, 2017, a San Francisco jury acquitted José Inés García Zárate, an illegal immigrant from Mexico previously deported five times, of murdering Kate Steinle.14 Her tragic killing galvanized public support for harsher immigration enforcement and the construction of a border wall and provided anecdotal evidence for then‐candidate Trump’s claim that illegal immigrants are responsible for a large number of crimes in the United States.15
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. The homicide conviction rate for native‐born Americans was 3.1 per 100,000, 2.6 per 100,000 for illegal immigrants, and 1 per 100,000 for legal immigrants (Figure 2). In 2015, homicide conviction rates for illegal and legal immigrants were 16 percent and 67 percent below those of natives, respectively.
Illegal immigrants made up about 6.4 percent of the Texas population in 2015 but only accounted for 5.9 percent of all homicide convictions. Legal immigrants made up 10.6 percent of the Texas population but accounted for only 3.8 percent of homicide convictions. Native‐born Americans made up 83 percent of the Texas population but accounted for 90.3 percent of all homicide convictions (Figure 3).
Commentators also disproportionately blame immigrants for sex assaults and sex offenses.16 This brief combines sexual assault and sexual offense into the criminal category of sex crimes. There were 28.6 sex crime convictions of illegal immigrants per 100,000 in 2015, about 7.9 percent fewer than for native‐born Americans in the same year (Figure 4). The sex crime conviction rate for legal immigrants was 69 percent below that of natives. There were many fewer sex crime convictions against immigrants, including illegal immigrants, than against native‐born Americans in Texas in 2015.
There were fewer larceny convictions of illegal immigrants and legal immigrants than there were of natives in 2015. There were 267 larceny convictions of natives per 100,000 while there were only about 62 convictions against illegal immigrants and 74 against legal immigrants (Figure 5). The larceny conviction rate for illegal immigrants was 77 percent below that of natives. This is one of the few crimes where the criminal conviction rate of legal immigrants is greater than it is for illegal immigrants.
Some commentators argue that there is “immigrant privilege” in the criminal justice system whereby immigrants face fewer criminal convictions even though they are arrested for more crimes.17 However, the arrest rate for illegal immigrants is lower than for natives overall but higher for just a handful of individual crimes—very similar to the conviction rate. Lower arrest rates for illegal immigrants overturns the “immigrant privilege” hypothesis.
In 2015, Texas police made 815,689 arrests of natives, 37,776 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 20,323 arrests of legal immigrants. For every 100,000 people in each subgroup, there were 3,578 arrests of natives, 2,149 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 698 arrests of legal immigrants (Table 1). The arrest rate for illegal immigrants was 40 percent below that of native‐born Americans. The arrest rate for all immigrants and legal immigrants was 65 percent and 81 percent below that of native‐born Americans, respectively.
Per 100,000 people in their respective groups, there were more arrests of natives for homicide, sex crimes, and larceny than there were arrests of illegal immigrants.
The homicide conviction rate for illegal immigrants was 16 percent below that of native‐born Americans in Texas in 2015. The conviction rates for illegal immigrants were 7.9 percent and 77 percent below that of native‐born Americans for sex crimes and larceny, respectively. For all criminal convictions in Texas in 2015, illegal immigrants had a criminal conviction rate 50 percent below that of native‐born Americans. Legal immigrants had a criminal conviction rate 66 percent below that of native‐born Americans.
1 “Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” Executive Order of the President, January 25, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-enhancing-public-safety-interior-united-states/; and Maha Ahmed, “Jeff Sessions Gives In and Sends Federal Funds to Sanctuary Cities,” Mother Jones, November 20, 2017.
2 Lesley Stahl, “President‐Elect Trump Speaks to a Divided Country on 60 Minutes,” CBS News, November 13, 2016.
3 See Daniel P. Mears, “The Immigration‐Crime Nexus: Toward an Analytic Framework for Assessing and Guiding Theory, Research, and Policy,” Sociological Perspectives 44, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 1–19; Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, “The Role of Deportation in the Incarceration of Immigrants,” in Issues in the Economics of Immigration, ed. George J. Borjas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000): 351–86; Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, “Why Are Immigrants’ Incarceration Rates So Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation,” NBER Working Paper no. 13229, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2007; Jacob I. Stowell et al., “Immigration and the Recent Violent Crime Drop in the United States: A Pooled, Cross‐Sectional Time‐Series Analysis of Metropolitan Areas,” Criminology 47, no. 3 (2009): 889–928; Lesley Williams Reid et al., “The Immigration–Crime Relationship: Evidence across U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” Social Science Research 34, no. 4 (2005): 757–80; Matthew T. Lee, Ramiro Martinez, and Richard Rosenfeld, “Does Immigration Increase Homicide?,” Sociological Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2001): 559–80; Butcher and Piehl, “The Role of Deportation in the Incarceration of Immigrants”; Butcher and Piehl, “Why Are Immigrants’ Incarceration Rates So Low?”; Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martinez, and Ruben G. Rumbaut, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” American Immigration Council Special Report, July 2015; and Alex Nowrasteh, “Immigration and Crime—What the Research Says,” Cato at Liberty, July 14, 2015, https://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-crime-what-research-says.
4 Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh, “Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin,” Cato Institute Immigration Research and Policy Brief, no. 1, March 15, 2017, https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-reform-bulletin/criminal-immigrants-their-numbers-demographics-countries; Nicole Cobler, “Less Than 5 Percent of Texas Prison Inmates Are Undocumented,” Texas Tribune, February 19, 2016; and Laura J. Hickman and Marika J. Suttorp, “Are Deportable Aliens a Unique Threat to Public Safety? Comparing the Recidivism of Deportable and Nondeportable Aliens,” Criminology and Public Policy 7, no. 1 (2008): 59–82.
5 Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox, “Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime? Evidence from Secure Communities,” Journal of Law and Economics 57, no. 4 (2014): 937–73; and Elina Treyger, Aaron Chalfin, and Charles Loeffler, “Immigration Enforcement, Policing, and Crime,” Criminology & Public Policy 13, no. 2 (2014): 285–322.
6 “Public Information Act,” Texas Department of Public Safety, http://www.dps.texas.gov/pia.htm; and “Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data,” Texas Department of Public Safety, https://www.dps.texas.gov/administration/crime_records/pages/txCriminalAlienStatistics.htm. This information is available on email request made to Alex Nowrasteh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 ICE News Releases, “ICE ‘Secure Communities’ Program Now Activated in All Texas Counties,” September 29, 2010, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-secure-communities-program-now-activated-all-texas-counties; and “Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data,” Texas Department of Public Safety, https://www.dps.texas.gov/administration/crime_records/pages/txCriminalAlienStatistics.htm.
8 Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh, “Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin.”
9 Texas Department of Public Safety, “Crime in Texas: 2015,” Chapter 9, 2015, https://www.dps.texas.gov/administration/crime_records/pages/crimestatistics.htm.
10 Center for Migration Studies, “State‐Level Unauthorized Population and Eligible‐to‐Naturalized Estimates,” Texas, 2015; and American Community Survey, “Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign‐Born Populations,” Table S0501 1‐Year Estimates, 2015.
11 Center for Migration Studies, “State‐Level Unauthorized Population and Eligible‐to‐Naturalized Estimates,” Texas, 2015; and American Community Survey, “Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign‐Born Populations,” Table S0501 1‐Year Estimates, 2015.
12 Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales, 1981–1996,” https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/html/cjusew96/cpp.cfm.
13 John Wildermuth and Rachel Swan, “Conservatives Let SF Have It over Verdict in Kate Steinle Case,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2017.
14 Vivian Ho, “Kate Steinle Trial: García Zárate Acquitted in San Francisco Pier Killing,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 1, 2017.
15 Donald J. Trump, “Transcript: Donald Trump’s Full Immigration Speech, Annotated,” Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-donald-trump-immigration-speech-transcript-20160831-snap-htmlstory.html.
16 Ann Coulter, ¡Adios, America! (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2015); and Ann Coulter, “‘Immigrant Privilege’ Drives Child Rape Epidemic,” Townhall, March 8, 2017.
17 Ann Coulter, “‘Immigrant Privilege’ Drives Child Rape Epidemic,” Townhall, March 8, 2017.