Study finds high rates of prison, jail for il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Nearly 3 per­cent of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in Ari­zona end up in state prison or jail dur­ing the course of a year — four times the rate of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to a study that uses fed­eral re­im­burse­ments for pris­ons and jails to try to cal­cu­late one of the most im­por­tant yet elu­sive sta­tis­tics in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate.

In New Jersey, il­le­gal im­mi­grants are in­car­cer­ated five times more of­ten, and rates on the West Coast are triple that of le­gal res­i­dents and cit­i­zens, ac­cord­ing to the study by the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form.

FAIR based its cal­cu­la­tions on fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­im­burse­ments to states and lo­cal­i­ties un­der the State Crim­i­nal Alien As­sis­tance Pro­gram, which pays some of the costs for hold­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants in pris­ons and jails. To make the pay­ments, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must de­ter­mine whether an in­mate is def­i­nitely or pos­si­bly in the coun­try il­le­gally. FAIR used the num­ber to then cal­cu­late over­all in­car­cer­a­tion rates.

The method is not with­out con­tro­versy. One an­a­lyst dis­missed the cal­cu­la­tions, say­ing SCAAP data counts are not com­pa­ra­ble to other in­car­cer­a­tion counts.

But FAIR says the SCAAP num­bers are the best cal­cu­la­tion be­cause they fo­cus on those known to be ar­rested on crim­i­nal charges and whom fed­eral of­fi­cials have con­cluded are in the coun­try il­le­gally.

In the 10 states FAIR se­lected, they de­ter­mined that il­le­gal im­mi­grants ended up be­hind bars at higher rates, per capita.

“This study should put to rest, once and for all, the no­tion that il­le­gal aliens com­mit crimes at a lower rate than le­gal res­i­dents,” FAIR Pres­i­dent Dan Stein said. “By fo­cus­ing on states with sig­nif­i­cant il­le­gal alien pop­u­la­tions and that con­sis­tently re­port to the SCAAP pro­gram, FAIR’s study re­futes this er­ro­neous claim.”

Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and its nexus to crime, long a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject, has gained even more im­por­tance in re­cent weeks as Pres­i­dent Trump has pushed for stiffer bor­der se­cu­rity — in­clud­ing a bor­der wall — that he says would “bring crime down in half in our coun­try.”

FAIR, which ad­vo­cates for a crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, doesn’t quite an­swer that ques­tion, but it does at­tempt to get at the over­all rates of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior of peo­ple whom the gov­ern­ment has con­firmed are in the coun­try il­le­gally, and then to com­pare that to the rate of crim­i­nal­ity by the rest of the pop­u­la­tion.

The group took a snap­shot of the prison pop­u­la­tion in a state, us­ing data from the Prison Pol­icy Ini­tia­tive, then sub­tracted the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants the fed­eral gov­ern­ment paid to in­car­cer­ate in a year. That pro­vided num­bers for both an il­le­gal im­mi­grant prison pop­u­la­tion and ev­ery­one else.

FAIR then com­pared those with es­ti­mates for the over­all res­i­den­tial num­bers for each state.

For Ari­zona, an­a­lysts used 10,300 con­firmed or sus­pected il­le­gal im­mi­grants for which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­im­bursed the state and coun­ties in 2016. They sub­tracted that from an over­all prison and jail pop­u­la­tion to get a non-il­le­gal-im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion of 46,700.

Each of those num­bers was stacked up against to­tal pop­u­la­tions. FAIR es­ti­mates that Ari­zona has an il­le­gal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion of 365,950 and non-il­le­gal-im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion of 6.7 mil­lion. In­car­cer­a­tion rates were 2.815 per­cent for il­le­gal im­mi­grants and 0.702 per­cent for all oth­ers.

That means one out of ev­ery 35 il­le­gal im­mi­grants in Ari­zona was in state prison or jail in 2016, which was the high­est rate of any of the states they stud­ied.

They did the same cal­cu­la­tions for nine other states that have strong SCAAP re­port­ing and ac­count for about three­quar­ters of the es­ti­mated il­le­gal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try.

In each of the 10 states, they found il­le­gal im­mi­grants in­car­cer­ated at higher rates. The gap was big­gest in New Jersey, with an il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion jail rate 440 per­cent higher, fol­lowed by Ari­zona, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia in the top five.

New York and Ne­vada came next, with rates at least 160 per­cent higher, fol­lowed by Florida, Texas and New Mex­ico, with the small­est gap — though even there, il­le­gal im­mi­grants were 42 per­cent more likely to be in prison or jail than the cit­i­zen and le­gal res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion.

John R. Lott Jr., pres­i­dent of the Crime Pre­ven­tion Re­search Cen­ter, said FAIR’s re­search gets around two is­sues that plague a lot of other re­search on il­le­gal im­mi­grant crime rates.

Many stud­ies rely on sur­vey data, such as the cen­sus, to ask about crim­i­nal pasts. But Mr. Lott said that if peo­ple are re­luc­tant to take part in the cen­sus be­cause they fear an­swer­ing cit­i­zen­ship ques­tions, then they might refuse to take part or might shade their an­swers if they are il­le­gal im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records. He said that would skew the re­sults of crime rate stud­ies based on cen­sus data.

An­other type of study looks at all im­mi­grants com­bined, with­out di­vid­ing out le­gal res­i­dents and il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Mr. Lott’s re­search, us­ing data from Ari­zona that dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween im­mi­grants, found that le­gal im­mi­grants had the low­est rates of in­car­cer­a­tion, with cit­i­zens in the mid­dle and il­le­gal im­mi­grants with the high­est rates of crime.

“FAIR here has stuff from mul­ti­ple states in­di­cat­ing that if in fact they’re right on all this, it’s pretty much sys­tem­at­i­cally true across all prison sys­tems and jail sys­tems,” he said.

But Alex Nowrasteh, a se­nior im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Cato In­sti­tute, ques­tioned FAIR’s method­ol­ogy. He said the data used to cal­cu­late the over­all prison pop­u­la­tion doesn’t link up with the SCAAP data, so try­ing to make in­car­cer­a­tion com­par­isons doesn’t work.

“The way that the gov­ern­ment mea­sures the num­ber of SCAAP prison­ers is dif­fer­ent than the way they mea­sure any other type of prison­ers in the United States,” he said. “I’d need to mea­sure other prison pop­u­la­tions in the same way the gov­ern­ment mea­sures SCAAP prison­ers be­cause the SCAAP is a com­bi­na­tion of both the num­ber of prison­ers in prison and the num­ber ad­mit­ted over a pe­riod of time.”

Mr. Nowrasteh con­ducted such a cal­cu­la­tion for SCAAP num­bers na­tion­ally, for data from 2006 to 2015. He found that as a per­cent­age of their re­spec­tive sub­pop­u­la­tions, il­le­gal im­mi­grants are less likely to be in­car­cer­ated na­tion­wide than na­tive-born Amer­i­cans and le­gal res­i­dents.’

In 2015, for ex­am­ple, he found the in­car­cer­a­tion rate of il­le­gal im­mi­grants at 486.8 per 100,000, ver­sus 673 per 100,000 for cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents.

The SCAAP data that FAIR used doesn’t delve into the spe­cific crimes cov­ered, so it’s im­pos­si­ble to say from the data whether one pop­u­la­tion tended to­ward more se­ri­ous of­fenses com­pared with the other.

Other po­ten­tial prob­lems with the SCAAP data in­clude the risk of dou­ble­count­ing be­cause the num­bers give only an aggregate of in­mate stays. If some­one is in a lo­cal jail and then a state prison for the same of­fense in the same year, then they could be dou­ble-counted.

FAIR, though, says the con­di­tions of SCAAP money — some­one must have a felony or two mis­de­meanor con­vic­tions — plus the av­er­age length of stay means the rate of dou­ble-count­ing is likely small.

Other stud­ies have tried to get at the il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion crime ques­tion other ways.

A study pub­lished last March in the jour­nal Crim­i­nol­ogy found that com­mu­ni­ties with higher lev­els of il­le­gal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions had lower lev­els of crime. Michael T. Light, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son, cal­cu­lated that a 1 per­cent in­crease in the unau­tho­rized pop­u­la­tion meant 49 fewer crimes per 100,000 peo­ple — the typ­i­cal yard­stick for crime rates.


The Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form cal­cu­lated that one out of ev­ery 35 il­le­gal im­mi­grants in Ari­zona was in state prison or jail in 2016, the high­est rate of any of the states its re­searchers stud­ied. Other stud­ies came to dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions.

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