By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
In Trump's June 16, 2015 speech declaring his candidacy for president, Trump used the "consensus effect" (everybody knows this) to defend his assertions about Mexican immigrants an crime:
“I can never apologize for the truth. I don’t mind apologizing for things. But I can’t apologize for the truth. I said tremendous crime is coming across. Everybody knows that’s true. And it’s happening all the time. So, why, when I mention, all of a sudden I’m a racist. I’m not a racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
And in an interview a few weeks after his candidacy announcement, he blamed the Mexican government for "forcing" their criminals into the United States:
“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
More recently, in a speech on June 19, 2018, Trump stated this about the Central American political-asylum seekers coming through the southern the border:
“…If they’re good, that’s great. And if they’re bad. You’ll have killings, you’ll have murders, you’ll have this, you’ll have that, and you’ll have crime. You’ll have crime.”
So, do immigrants, particularly immigrants coming through Mexico (documented and undocumented), commit more violent crimes than native-born Americans? No.
The relationship between immigrants and criminality has been studied for more than a century, and there have been hundreds of studies examining this issue. There is no question about this, the consensus of the research is clear, immigrants (both documented and undocumented) commit far fewer violent crimes compared to native-born Americans.
These studies are pretty powerful because if you know anything about our criminal justice system, you know that it’s filled with racial disparities—racial profiling in arrests (Google veil of darkness traffic stops), disparity in indictments, and disparity in sentencing laws. So the fact that despite mass racial disparities throughout the U.S. criminal justice system, immigrants from south of the border, and particularly undocumented immigrants have far fewer arrests and far lower incarceration rates compared to native-born Americans, is pretty telling.
Here’s a graph from a 2015 study examining the violent crimes of over 71,000 defendants in the United States conducted by the United States Sentencing Commission. As you can see, U.S. citizens commit far more violent crimes compared to both documented and undocumented immigrants.
Trump used statistics from an earlier United States Sentencing Commission report as verification of his claim that Mexico sends its “worst,” but it turns out he was including immigration-related crimes, which of course would increase arrest and incarceration rates for undocumented immigrants.
When only violent crimes are examined, arrest and incarceration rates for undocumented immigrants drop significantly.
Click HERE for the original research stats.
Click HERE for the Business Insider summary.
Trump talks a lot about immigrants committing murder, and yet, out of the 91 murders examined in 2015 by the United States Sentencing Commission, only 11 were committed by immigrants from south of the border.
Trump’s statements about immigrants and rape are probably the strongest among all of his claims of violent crime committed by this population. For instance, Trump expressed anger in response to the Central American migrant caravan that walked to Mexico city in April 2018 to increase awareness of their plight. When media reports came out that some of the migrants may continue north to the United States, Trump stated:
“They're not putting their good ones. And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened. Everybody said, 'Oh, he was so tough.' And I used the word 'rape.' And yesterday it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don't want to mention that”
The thing is, there were no reports released the day before, or at any time by the media or law enforcement about rapes within the caravan. And human rights workers and members of the press who were walking alongside the migrants, heard nothing about rapes of the women and girls in the caravan.
With regard to crime statistics, the United States Sentencing Commission found that among all sexual assaults included in the study, 95% were committed by native-born U.S. citizens.
Here’s a 2018 report by the Cato Institute, a non-partisan “think tank” that researches American public policy. This report examined all crimes in Texas during 2015. The crimes were analyzed based on type (murder, sexual assault, etc.) and demographics (native-born U.S. citizens, all immigrants, undocumented immigrants).
The study was based on the total number of arrests by Texas police in 2015, which included 815,689 arrests of natives, 37,776 arrests of undocumented immigrants, and 20,323 arrests of documented immigrants.
Of the 815,689 total arrests, there were 430,459 convictions, of which 409,063 were of native-born Americans, 13,753 were of undocumented immigrants, and 7,643 were of documented immigrants (See Figure 1).
There were a total of 951 homicide convictions in Texas in 2015, and native-born Americans were convicted of 885 of them. Undocumented immigrants were convicted of 51, and documented immigrants were convicted of 15 (see Figure 2).
Click HERE for the entire report.
Immigrants also have far lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans, according to Census data and a report by the American Immigration Council. Census data (1980 to 2010, the most recent data available) shows that incarceration rates among younger white native-born American males with high school diplomas were three times higher than those of young men from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala (with lower levels of education) living in the United States. When the age range is expanded to 18 – 39, the incarceration rates for native-born American males were five times higher.
One of the largest studies ever conducted on this issue examined the violent crime rates in 2015 of over 45 million male native-born Americans, second-generation immigrants, and undocumented immigrants, between the ages 18 to 39. The study found that undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America had the lowest incarceration rates by far, followed by second-generation immigrants, and then native-born Americans. In fact, native-born Americans had by far the highest rates of incarceration among the two groups.
Click HERE for the entire report.
The pattern of second-generation immigrants having higher incarceration rates than their undocumented “co-ethnics” was interesting to me, so I searched for other studies that also showed this trend. I found a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Center that showed first generation immigrants had by far the lowest crime rates, whereas second-generation immigrant crime rates more closely resembled those of native-born Americans. Researchers believe this trend shows how criminalization may be a part of the “Americanization process.”
Also, the overall rate for violent crime in the United States has sharply decreased in the last 25 years, according to the FBI (by almost half). So other than the steady rise in mass shooter incidents, overall the U.S. is a pretty safe place to live.
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.