[OP-ED]: Deporting all illegal immigrants would not make crime go away
In March, two illegal immigrant teens were accused of attacking and raping a 14-year-old girl in a Maryland high school bathroom stall. The girl had reported the boys to the police, claiming that they’d held her down as she cried and tried to break free, and repeatedly told them to stop and as they took turns assaulting her.
The incident was used by the Trump administration to illustrate the narrative of the south-of-the-border rapist and murderer that Donald Trump has been pushing since announcing his run for president.
It turns out that the prosecutors in the case had to drop the sexual assault charges because text messages underscored the defendants’ claim that the sex had been consensual, and school surveillance video footage backed up their claim that the school-grounds tryst had been pre-arranged.
Unfortunately, sexual behavior goes on in high schools -- and, now, increasingly, in middle schools -- all the time. These days, sexting, videotaping sexual encounters and engaging in sexual contact in taboo settings are just part of the landscape when it comes to young people who have high-powered, web-connected cameras in their hands 24/7.
The real issue in the Maryland case was the legal status of the perpetrators.
So, now that the two teens have been cleared of rape and sexual offense charges, it’s time to reinforce the fact that not all -- not even most -- illegal immigrants are criminals who are here to harm U.S. citizens.
Entering the U.S. without permission -- or entering on a visa and then overstaying it -- is a civil offense, not a criminal one.
In an analysis of data that included both individual self-reports of crime and official records, researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Texas at Dallas reiterated the low crime rates among immigrants and found “no evidence that foreign-born, first-generation immigrants underreport their arrest history. In fact, when evidence of divergence exists, it is in the direction of immigrants overreporting arrests.”
Research going back nearly a century affirms that the foreign-born are involved in crime at significantly lower rates than their U.S.-born peers.
The reason this is not better understood is that we can’t directly compare the number of crimes committed by the foreign-born to those committed by the U.S.-born.
“When the FBI releases data on crime, they don’t release the proportion of arrests that are committed by the undocumented -- their numbers come from 15,000-odd police departments who don’t have the field for immigration status as part of their data collection,” said Alex Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas and co-author of the new study. “So we don’t know how many are undocumented, and we also don’t know how many are living here. We have back-of-the-envelope estimates of about 11 million, but we don’t know for sure.”
Piquero told me that there are political aspects implicit in how data is collected. For instance, up until 2013, the FBI did not sort out Hispanics -- they were lumped in to the white or black categories.
And, in terms of municipalities collecting immigration-status data, Piquero said, “I’m not a member of any immigrant advocacy organizations, but it’s easy to see how they might see it as a double-edged sword. Yes, you might want to capture information on legal status to demonstrate that the undocumented aren’t a problem but then that might open them up to being detained and deported.”
So we must nibble at the edges of the data we do have to gain a better understanding of who commits crime. According to the most recent Department of Justice report on federal arrest statistics, in 2014 non-U.S. citizens made up 41.8 percent of defendants charged in U.S. District Court and 37 percent of those were in the country without legal authorization.
We’re talking about 23,783 unlawfully present defendants out of a total U.S. foreign-born population of 42 million, in 2014. That’s a rate of 0.057 percent of all foreign-born immigrants charged in federal court, and about a third of those cases were immigration-related.
Surely, all crime is far too much crime. And all reasonable people want law and order to prevail. But our country will not get less violent or more safe if we collectively choose to pretend that our crime problem would go away if only we could get rid of all the illegal immigrants.