As the presidential election draws to a close, immigration policy and reform has become a pivotal piece of American politics. On one side, Donald Trump has called Mexican immigrants murders and rapists while wanting to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and on the other, Hillary Clinton has pledged to undertake comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days as president to create a simple pathway to full and equal citizenship for many immigrants. While we can assume that both candidates are doing what they think is best for the country, the key difference separating both camps is the impact that foreign immigrants have on safety of America and its citizens.
From the random shooting of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant last year to success stories of immigrants who have come to the United States, there is anecdotal evidence that supports both sides of the argument. However, what do the numbers say when taking a critical look at the issue?
Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status (1990-2014)
Overall crime in the United States has dropped in the face of a massive wave of both legal and illegal immigration.
In terms of overall trends in the United States, the American Immigration Council found that between 1990 and 2013, the foreign born share of the US population almost doubled from 7.9% to 13.1% and the number of undocumented immigrants tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During this same time period, violent crime and property crime fell 48% and 41% respectively.
Incarceration rates for immigrants are lower, except in federal prisons.
The American Immigration Council also found that about 1.6% of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated as compared to the 3.3% of the native born population. However, when it comes to federal prisons, non-citizens make up 19% of federal prisoners, disproportionately almost twice the amount of their overall adult population.
However, according to one immigration lawyer in Houston, Texas, these statistics are misleading due to the types of cases that fall under federal jurisdiction. “Immigration violations are prosecuted under federal law regardless of the offense, including non-violent immigration offenses. Therefore, because immigration cases routinely account for the most federal offenses per year, 31.2% in 2014, more immigrants will show up as federal criminals.” Furthermore, a very small number of these federal cases represent violent offenses as most violent crimes are handled by state and local jurisdictions. For example a commonly used statistics is that undocumented immigrants accounted for 9.2% of federal murder convictions in 2013, but a closer look reveals that only represented a total of 8 murder cases, as compared to the over 14,000 murder case that took place in the United States that year. Regardless of how the data is manipulated, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, a majority of federal offenders are United States citizens, accounting for 58% of all federal crimes in 2014.
Evidence suggests that immigrants can provide a boost to the economy.
According to data from the White House, 18% of small business owners in the United States are immigrants and are 30% more likely to start a business in the than non-immigrants. Moreover, small businesses owned by immigrants employed 4.7 million people in 2007, generating more than $776 billion each year.
As can be seen from the data, it is very hard to make the case that immigrants are more likely to commit a crime than citizens born in the United States. That is not to say that illegal immigration is good or that immigrants will never commit crimes, but the notion that banning all foreigners from the country makes America safer is more if a nationalistic ploy than empirical evidence. As a country that was built by immigrants and owes much of its success to citizens from all over the world, it is important to remember that our country’s immigration policy should reflect what made us great in the first place.