ice_arrest_eldoradoThe forthcoming issue of Reason Magazine (October issue) has an article on “Criminal Immigrants?” in which it cites FAIR as a source of misinformation on elevated crime rates by immigrants. It notes a study suggesting the opposite, i.e., lower crime rates by immigrants.

The charge against FAIR is wrong. FAIR’s research on crime rates and immigration focused on crime rates among the illegal alien population, not legal immigrants. See “Illegal Aliens and Crime Incidence.” That study used U.S. Government data collected in the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and found the crime incidence among illegal and other deportable aliens to be fifty percent higher than for native and naturalized U.S. citizens.

The findings of the study reported in Reason are not surprising. Legal immigrants are screened to prevent the arrival of aliens with prior criminal convictions and, as noted in the article, as long as they are ‘green card’ holders they are subject to deportation if they are convicted of any serious crime or series of minor crimes. The latter provision of the law is intended to assure that they do not remain in the country to become a repeat offender. Both provisions of the immigration law act to increase the likelihood that legal immigrants have a lower incidence of criminal activity than the general population.

Because illegal aliens who sneak into the country are not screened for prior criminal activity and are willfully breaking the immigration law, they represent an entirely different profile of likely criminal activity than legal immigrants.

This, however, raises the issue of how an amnesty affects this issue. In either an amnesty, like the general amnesty for illegal aliens in 1986, or the executive amnesty like DACA (or the expansion of that action currently contemplated by the Obama administration), in theory the applicants are screened to weed out criminals. However, it appears that there is no effort to check foreign crime databases – as there is for legal immigrants – and illegal aliens in the United States regularly procure in fake identity documents which increases the possibility that prior criminal activity may be missed unless it is based on fingerprint records.

Giving legal status to illegal aliens is wrong-headed for many reasons – especially because it erodes respect for the law and encourages more illegal entry. But amnesty also means we are granting legal status to people whose backgrounds cannot be readily checked.  In doing so, we run the risk of legalizing people who have engaged in criminal activity or who may likely do so in the future. It is a factor that that should not be minimized.