National Data | Facts and Factoids On Immigrant Crime


In her column on Pat Buchanan`s new book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, Linda Chavez finds “…factoids ad nauseam, all with the purpose of blaming Mexicans for just about everything wrong with America.” [Banishing Factoids, August 23, 2006]

Hold it right there! I provided many of those factoids and am kindly thanked by Buchanan in his acknowledgements. Just as the definition of “racist” is, notoriously, “anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal, so it now appears that “factoids” are simply “facts that immigration enthusiasts don`t like”.

Chavez focuses on Buchanan`s report that 95 percent of all outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens. Buchanan cited an article by the Manhattan Institute`s Heather Mac Donald. [The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave, City Journal, Winter 2004]

Chavez does not challenge MacDonald`s testimony that she was told this by a source in the Los Angeles Police Department. But she makes much of the fact that the LAPD doesn`t collect information on the immigration status of criminals, much less suspects.”

Of course, the real question here is: why doesn`t the LAPD, and American government in general, collect information on the immigrant status of criminals? (Answer: because it doesn`t want to know.)

But Ms. Chavez then goes on to bring a true factoid to bear on the immigrant crime question. She writes:

“University of California professor Ruben Rumbaut, an expert on immigration and crime, looked at 2000 Census data on the institutionalized population in the United States, most of whom are in prisons, and came up with these astonishing facts. Immigrants are far less likely to be in jail or prison than other U.S. residents.” [Debunking the Myth of Immigrant Criminality: Imprisonment Among First- and Second-Generation Young Men, June 1, 2006]

“Of the U.S. population of 45.2 million men ages 18 to 39 (those most likely to be in the criminal population), 3 percent were incarcerated, or about 1.3 million at the time of the 2000 Census. But of these, blacks, whites and U.S.-born Hispanics had incarceration rates that dwarfed those of immigrants. Only .7 percent of Mexican-born males were in prison or jail, compared with 3.51 percent of all U.S.-born males, which includes 1.71 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 11.6 percent of blacks and 5.9 percent of Mexican Americans.”

(Note carefully, as Chavez does not, that high rate of incarceration for “Mexican-Americans”. We will return to this point later).

Are “immigrants” really less crime prone than the U.S.-born?

Here`s some perspective: Non-citizens account for 7.2 percent of the total U.S. population, according to a 2003 Census survey. Their share of the incarcerated population that year was 12.9 percent—more than half again as large. Approximately 27 percent of all prisoners in Federal custody are criminal aliens. The majority (63 percent) are citizens of Mexico. [GAO, Letter to Representative John Hostettler, April 7, 2005( PDF)]

In fact, contrary to what Chavez seems to think, Professor Rumbaut [send him mail] does not provide overall figures for “immigrants” or, oddly, even for for Hispanic immigrants. He mostly deals with individual national-origin groups. (In the table that follows I`ve estimated overall Hispanic immigrant incarceration from this material).

And even his own data show that Hispanic immigrants of any nationality—including Mexicans—are more likely to be imprisoned than non-Hispanic white immigrants. Here are incarceration rates for foreign-born males 18 to 39:

But why does this factoid—the relatively low incarceration rates of Mexican males—exist anyway?

There are several possibilities. Perhaps, as Steve Sailer notes, it`s because immigrants typically enter America past the prime crime ages—18 to 24. Perhaps location matters—Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans, for example, tend to be concentrated in crime-rich big cities. Perhaps Mexican immigrant criminals can disproportionately avoid incarceration by fleeing to Mexico.

Or perhaps the sheer number of Mexicans entering the U.S. every year ((161,000 entered legally in 2005[ Excel Spreadsheet] and on net maybe as many again illegally) distorts the data. Maybe they just haven`t had time yet to finish up in the slammer.

But whatever the reason, it really is a factoid—a bad guide to reality. Rumbaut reveals this, no doubt inadvertently, in the last part of his paper. It focuses on imprisonment of second-generation immigrant males, ages 18 to 24, in San Diego.

Overall, 12 percent of the second-generation immigrant males in San Diego reported they had been incarcerated at some time during the years covered by the survey. However, according to Rumbaut:

“The Mexicans were about twice as likely to report having been arrested and incarcerated as all of the other groups (as well as reporting that family members had been arrested and incarcerated)…”

“Specifically, 28 percent of Mexican-origin men in the sample reported having been arrested and 20 percent reported having been incarcerated in the years since 1995—i.e., between the ages of 18 and 24—a much higher proportion than the Vietnamese men, who came next at 17 percent arrested and 15 percent incarcerated, as well as the smaller samples of other Asians and other Latin Americans, with rates of arrest and incarceration approximating the latter.”

Notes the Professor:

“Given the huge size of the Mexican-origin second generation compared to all other groups in the United States this is a finding fraught with implications for the future.”

Apparently Linda Chavez never got to this part of Professor Rumbaut`s paper.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.