Texas

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. 

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. 

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. 

Figure 1: Homicide conviction rates in Texas

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. 

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.

Texas Pastors Are Wrong about School Choice

Today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published my op-ed addressing the claims of a group called Pastors for Texas Children. For the last month, the pastors have been flooding the pages of Texas newspapers with op-eds opposing school choice. Although they raise some legitimate concerns about school vouchers, their charges against scholarship tax credits—and school choice laws generally—range from lacking substance to being demonstrably false. 

There wasn’t enough space to address all of their claims in a single op-ed, but fortunately, here at Cato@Liberty we buy megapixels by the barrel (or whatever they come in). 

The claims made by six Fort Worth pastors in this op-ed were typical. I’ll address their major claims point by point:

The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.

Actually, the scholarships plainly are not vouchers. Voucher programs are government-funded and administered. Tax-credit scholarships are privately funded and administered by nonprofit scholarship organizations. As I wrote in the Star-Telegram, it’s like the difference between government-issued food stamps and nonprofit food banks. Donors to both scholarship organizations and food banks have their tax burden lowered as a result, but in neither case do the donated funds transmogrify into government property.

Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that school vouchers are constitutional because they serve a secular purpose, are neutral with respect to religion, and the funds are given to parents who can choose among religious or secular options. This is no more offensive to the First Amendment than holding a Bible study in a Section-8 subsidized apartment or using Medicaid at a Catholic hospital with a crucifix in every room and chaplains on the payroll.

Second, as noted previously, tax-credit scholarships are private funds. In ACSTO v. Winn, SCOTUS held that private funds do not become government property until they “come into the tax collector’s hands.”

The Year of Educational Choice: Update II

Educational choice is on the march.

As I noted back in February, the stars appeared to be aligned for a “Year of Educational Choice.” By late April, state legislatures were halfway toward beating the record of 13 states adopting new or expanded school choice laws in 2011, which the Wall Street Journal dubbed the “Year of School Choice.” The major difference in the types of legislative proposals under consideration this year is that more than a dozen states considered education savings account (ESA) laws that allow parents to purchase a wide variety of educational products and services and save for future education expenses, including college.

On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Individualized Education Act, an ESA program for students with special needs. Earlier this year, Mississippi enacted the nation’s third ESA law, behind Arizona and Florida. Lawmakers in Montana also passed an ESA, but Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed it earlier this month.

Nevertheless, Gov. Bullock allowed a universal tax-credit scholarship bill to become law without his signature. The law is an important step toward educational freedom, albeit a very modest one. Taxpayers can only receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations up to $150, meaning that a single $4,500 scholarship will require 30 donors. No other state has such a restrictive per-donor credit cap. Unless the legislature raises or eliminates the cap, Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program is likely to help very few students.

The Year of Educational Choice: An Update

Back in February, I speculated that 2015 might be the “Year of Educational Choice” in the same way that the Wall Street Journal declared 2011 the “Year of School Choice” after 13 states enacted new or expanded school choice laws.

This year, in addition to a slew of more traditional school choice proposals, about a dozen legislatures considered new or expanded education savings accounts (ESAs). As I explained previously:

ESAs represent a move from school choice to educational choice because families can use ESA funds to pay for a lot more than just private school tuition. Parents can use the ESA funds for tutors, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online classes, educational therapy, and more. They can also save unused funds for future educational expenses, including college.

Currently, two states have ESA laws: Arizona and Florida. Both states redirect 90% of the funds that they would have spent on a student at her assigned district school into her education savings account. The major difference between the two laws is that Arizona’s ESA is managed by the Arizona Department of Education while Florida’s is privately managed by Step Up For Students and AAA Scholarships, the nonprofit scholarship organizations that also issue scholarships through the Sunshine State’s tax credit law.

Both Arizona and Florida expanded their ESA programs this year. Earlier this month, Arizona expanded eligibility for the ESA to students living on Native American reservations. And just today, the Florida House of Representatives voted unanimously to expand its ESA. Travis Pillow of the RedefinED Online blog explains:

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