December 22, 2017

New York Times Insists That Non-Citizens Have a Lower Crime Rate Than Citizens

On Thursday, Vivian Yee at the New York Times repeated the tired and unproven claim that “a large body of research has suggested that immigrants are no more likely, and often less likely, to commit serious crimes than native-born Americans.” Though the article had plenty of links, there was no link to anything in that alleged “large body of research.” Though Donald Trump has ordered his administration to change the situation, the fact is that there is not yet enough data to prove or disprove Yee’s breezy contention, and the limited sliver of data available about federal crimes indicates that non-citizens disproportionately commit crimes.

Here are the key paragraphs from Yee’s coverage of a Thursday report on “Alien Incarceration” released by the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security (links are in original; bolds are mine throughout this post):

Thousands of Federal Inmates Are in the U.S. Illegally, Administration Says

About one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, and more than 90 percent of those are in the United States illegally, according to a report released on Thursday by the Trump administration, which has sought to highlight the dangers it says unauthorized immigrants pose to public safety.

Officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security quickly framed the statistics as evidence that the country needed stricter anti-immigration measures, particularly the wall President Trump has pushed to erect across the southern border.

Administration officials have repeatedly emphasized what it says are links between unauthorized immigrants and crime, even opening an office to advocate for the victims of crimes committed by immigrants. But a large body of research has suggested that immigrants are no more likely, and often less likely, to commit serious crimes than native-born Americans.

The proportion of unauthorized immigrants in federal prison may be explained partly by the fact that immigration offenses now account for about half of all federal prosecutions, including those for smuggling people into the United States, illegally entering the country and illegally re-entering the country after being deported.

“The report proves one thing only: The administration will take any opportunity possible to twist facts to demonize immigrants,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “The vast majority of immigrants in federal prison are there for crimes that only immigrants can be charged with — illegal entry and illegal entry after removal. When you cook the books you shouldn’t pretend to be surprised by the results.”

Yee’s contention that “immigration offenses now account for about half of all federal prosecutions” is incorrect. The linked item at the Pew Research Center relates to immigration arrests. Obviously, not all arrests are prosecuted, and not all prosecutions result in a prison sentence.

The only persons engaging in “cook the books” exercises are Yee and the Center for American Progress’s Jawetz, as seen below, using 2016 data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission found at Table 9:


Non-citizens were sentenced for 20.5 percent of all federal crimes other than those relating to immigration offenses in 2016. That’s almost triple the 7 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. population.

Thursday night, in his show’s opening monologue, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson highlighted five key crimes with very disproportionately heavy non-citizen involvement:


The Center for American Progress’s Tom Jawetz was presumptively wrong when he accused the administration of “cooking the books.” He cannot be proven absolutely wrong, because truly clean data for non-federal crimes, which comprise the vast majority of all crimes, is simply not available, partially because determining immigration status at the time of arrest is often difficult, and because many jurisdictions aren’t interested in tracking citizen vs. non-citizen crime, or whether the person arrested is here legally or illegally. Sanctuary cities often require police officers not to inquire about a person’s legal status at the time of arrest.

The government’s Thursday Alien Incarceration Report makes it clear that it intends to remedy that shortcoming (breaks between items added by me):

On January 25, 2017, the President signed Executive Order (EO) 13768 on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.

Section 16 of the EO directs the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect relevant data and provide quarterly reports on:

(a) the immigration status of all aliens incarcerated under the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP);

(b) the immigration status of all aliens incarcerated as federal pretrial detainees under the supervision of the United States Marshals Service (USMS); and

(c) the immigration status of all convicted aliens incarcerated in state prisons and local detention centers throughout the United States.

The report addresses items a) and b), and found the following:

A total of 58,766 known or suspected aliens were in in DOJ custody at the end of FY 2017, including 39,455 persons in BOP custody and 19,311 in USMS custody.

Of this total, 37,557 people had been confirmed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be aliens (i.e., non-citizens and non-nationals), while 21,209 foreign-born people were still under investigation by ICE to determine alienage. Among the 37,557 confirmed aliens, 35,334 people (94 percent) were unlawfully present. These numbers include a 92 percent unlawful rate among 24,476 confirmed aliens in BOP custody and a 97 percent unlawful rate among 13,081 confirmed aliens in USMS custody.

Item c) is obviously the most important of the three, and will be the most difficult to accumulate or estimate because of state and local resistance. Until that matter is addressed, the default assumption, which presumptively refutes Yee’s “large body of research” based on known federal data, is that non-citizens commit crimes at a greater rate than citizens.

The stats in the two graphics above mask one major problem, because non-citizens come in two distinct groups: those who are playing by the rules and are in this country legally, and those who are in this country illegally. There is every reason to believe that people who are in the U.S. illegally commit a disproportionate percentage of non-citizen crime.

Vivian Yee could have included comments from any number of center-right group spokespersons advocating better controls over immigration who would have set her and her readers straight about the matters discussed here, but she apparently either didn’t solicit them or chose to ignore them.

Cross-posted, with possible revisions, at


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