Wall construction, Douglas, Arizona. US Navy photo by Steelworker 1st Class Matthew Tyson (Wikipedia)
Washington

Is Trump right to blame illegal immigrants for a spike in crime?

US President Donald Trump is reportedly seeking $25 billion from Congress to fund a wall to be erected between the US and Mexico to keep criminals out. His detractors say he is wrong about crime. But what are the facts?

Published: February 9, 2018, 7:43 am

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    In his State of the Union address on January 30, Trump said: “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”

    He called on Congress “to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed… criminal gangs to break into our country,” and listed some points in his immigration-reform proposal, including the construction of a “great wall on the southern border” as well as securing the border.

    Trump also proposed ending the visa lottery, “a program that randomly plans out green cards without regard for skill, merit, for the safety of American people,” and the “current, broken system” of chain migration allowing family reunification of even distant relatives.

    Opponents of the border wall have been vocal in arguing that illegal immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than Americans. They also claim that illegal immigration has boosted the economy, and that the cost both of deportation and the construction of a wall by far exceeds the benefits of both. But what are the facts?

    In a study released in September 2017 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) the huge cost of illegal immigration was revealed. “At the federal, state, and local levels, taxpayers shell out approximately $134.9 billion to cover the costs incurred by the presence of more than 12.5 million illegal aliens, and about 4.2 million citizen children of illegal aliens,” Matt O’Brien and Spencer Raley, authors of the study found.

    This amounts to almost a $3 billion increase in the cost since 2013. This is five and a half times more… every year, than the single payment of $25 billion for constructing a wall.

    Deporting illegal immigrants, is equally inexpensive, according to Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies. “…The average cost of a deportation is much smaller than the net fiscal drain created by the average illegal immigrant,” in part due to the fact that “illegal immigrants overwhelmingly have modest levels of education — most have not completed high school or have only a high school education…creating more in costs for government than they pay in taxes.”

    And what about crime? Criminality among illegal aliens has been examined by John R. Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. According to Lott, an advantage of studying the Arizona Department of Corrections figures, is that “over our 32.5-year period, we know each prisoner who entered the prison system, their criminal convictions history, and whether he is a documented or undocumented immigrant. The only mystery is why this type of data has not been utilized until now.”

    Lott added: “Undocumented immigrants are at least 142 percent more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5 percent longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45 percent more likely to be gang members than US citizens…There are dramatic differences between in the criminal histories of convicts who are US citizens and undocumented immigrants…

    “Arizona’s prison population data allow us to compare undocumented immigrants’ share of the prison population with their estimated share of the state population…For the first time, we break down the data to examine differences between US citizens, undocumented immigrants, and legal permanent residents. One advantage of using convictions rather than just reported crimes is that convictions depend on a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of evidence and thus are much less likely to count innocent people.”

    According to Lott “[Y]oung undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young US citizens. These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes. If undocumented immigrants committed crime nationally as they do in Arizona, in 2016 they would have been responsible for over 1000 more murders, 5 200 rapes, 8 900 robberies, 25 300 aggravated assaults, and 26 900 burglaries.”

    In 2015 the DEA’s drug-threat assessment showed that drug overdoses killed more people in the United States than car accidents or guns. Many of these drugs [were] smuggled in large volumes by drug cartels,” from Mexico.

    The current barrier is not one contiguous structure, but a grouping of relatively short physical walls, secured in between with a “virtual fence” which includes a system of sensors and cameras monitored by the United States Border Patrol.

    As of January 2009, US Customs and Border Protection reported that it had more than 930 km of barriers in place. The total length of the continental border with Mexico is 3 201 km.

    On January 25, 2017, the Trump administration signed a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order, 13767 to commence extending the border wall, but Mexican president Peña Nieto gave a national televised address saying that “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls”.

    In 2006 already, the Mexican government vigorously condemned the US Secure Fence Act of 2006 and urged the US to drop its plans for expanded fences along their shared border, saying that it would “damage the environment and harm wildlife”.

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