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.