REPORT: Non-Citizens Commit More Federal Crimes Than Their Share Of US Population

Will Racke
Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

Non-U.S. citizens are convicted of many more federal crimes than their share of the population would suggest, according to an analysis published Wednesday.

Unlike state and local jurisdictions, the federal government tracks the citizenship status of the criminal defendants it convicts, breaking them down into citizens and non-citizens, which includes both legal and illegal immigrants.

Of all the federal defendants convicted of non-immigration crimes between 2011 and 2016, roughly 21 percent were non-citizens. That figure rises to 44 percent when immigration crimes such as improper entry or re-entry after deportation are counted.

Non-citizens make up 8.4 percent of all U.S. adults, meaning they commit roughly two and a half times more non-immigration crimes than their share of the population.

That conclusion comes from an analysis of recently released U.S. Sentencing Commission data by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a research organization that advocates lower levels of immigration. Because illegal immigrants are often charged only with immigration crimes even if they have committed other non-immigration offenses, the share of federal crimes committed by non-citizens could be even higher than the percentage reported in the CIS analysis.

“Once convicted, an immigrant will still normally serve some time and then be deported, which is often seen by prosecutors as good enough,” CIS research director Steven Camarota wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “This, of course, does not happen with citizens. But because of this, conviction data for non-immigration crimes will tend to understate the level of criminal activity among non-citizens.”

Camarota noted that defendants convicted at the federal level are not necessarily representative of all convictions in the U.S., including state and local cases. But with 67,000 noncitizens sentenced in the federal courts between 2011 and 2016, the federal system provides a large sample size from which to conclude that noncitizens commit far more crimes than their share of the population would indicate. (RELATED: FACT CHECK: Do Federal Charges In The Kate Steinle Case Count As Double Jeopardy?)

The CIS analysis also found that non-citizens, at 8.4 percent of the population, were responsible for:

42.4 percent of kidnapping convictions
31.5 percent of drug convictions
17.8 percent of economic crimes (larceny, embezzlement, and fraud)
13.4 percent of administration of justice offenses (witness tampering, obstruction, and contempt)
12.8 percent of auto thefts

Non-citizens were underrepresented in some categories of federal crimes. The CIS analysis shows that they accounted for:

4.1 percent of sex crime convictions
3.3 percent of robbery convictions
4.5 percent of arson convictions

The U.S. Sentencing Commission data does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, nor does it break down convictions by income level. It is almost certain that a majority of the non-citizens convicted of federal crimes are illegal immigrants, according to Camarota.

“We cannot say for sure because that information is not provided,” he wrote. “What we can say, at least at the federal level, is that non-citizens are more likely to commit crimes than citizens.”
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