President Donald Trump has received a lot of national media attention for the two immigration executive orders he signed Wednesday. In his remarks at the Department of Homeland Security, President Trump said this: “I just signed two executive orders that will save thousands of lives, millions of jobs and billions and billions of dollars.”
The question as to what the orders will do to “save thousands of lives” has revived a debate that was already discussed during the recent election season: what is the reality when it comes to immigration and crime, and what is the perception? In the summer of 2015, PBS NewsHour addressed this question in a segment that should be revisited:
In that segment, Jessica Vaughan, who represents the low-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, admitted that “there’s no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population,” but that did not stop claims that the country was being taken over by non-citizen violent criminals, as the following Breitbart story reported in 2015: “Illegal Immigrants Accounted for Nearly 37 Percent of Federal Sentences in FY 2014.”
The problem with this type of reporting, besides becoming a central tenet of President Trump’s immigration policy, is that is inaccurately overgeneralizes the country’s immigrant community as violent criminals when in fact the statistics don’t substantiate it.
In 2015, Alan Gomez wrote a piece for USA Today that reiterated this conclusion, but it is also important to work with current federal data to look into why the imagery of a violent immigrant community is problematic.
The following one-page document is part of what the U.S. Sentencing Commission released for fiscal year 2015. In essence, it is an overview of sentencing documents submitted to federal courts:
From a topline glance, you can conclude that 41.5% of non-citizens accounted for all federal sentences, but that does not take into account the following:
Close to 65% of those sentences were immigration convictions, a topic Pew Research covered in 2014: “Dramatic growth over the past two decades in the number of offenders sentenced in federal courts has been driven primarily by enforcement of a particular immigration offense —unlawful reentry into the United States— according to an analysis of data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC)” In other words, what is being presented as a primary offense in the same category as crimes such as murder and manslaughter is really a violation of immigration law.
If you combine convictions for murder and manslaughter, the total number of federal convictions was 17.
Drug trafficking is still a high number, but it is also a high number for U.S. citizens. In fact, the highest federal offense among U.S. citizens.
And finally, as the USSC states, “Information on the Citizenship Status of offenders is obtained from the presentence report. Offenders are categorized as one of the following: ‘U.S. citizen,’ ‘resident alien,’ ‘illegal alien,’ ‘extradited alien,’ and ‘non-U.S. citizen, alien status unknown.’ The latter four categories are collapsed into the category of “non-U.S. citizen.’ So the USCC does not determine whether a person is an undocumented immigrant or not.
This one brief analysis should in no way be the only source to explore this issue, but since President Trump has cited federal convictions in the past as being a big reason why the country needs to get tough on immigration, it is worth raising this issue again.
Furthermore, discussing the data on this issue should in no way discount the victims of crime, whether those who committed the crimes are citizens or non-citizens. But are “thousands of lives” being lost at the hands of immigrants in this country? The answer, based on federal conviction data at least, is a likely no.