Crime and Immigration

Last night while watching the Democratic National Convention I had my Twitter feed up (@foggybottomline) so I could send out a few and follow what the Twitterverse had to say.  I don’t follow @JohnLibertyUSA so I’m not sure why this popped up in my feed.  As you can see I pushed back a bit, asking for a link, and we went back and forth.  Since a discussion like this calls for more than 140 characters at a time, I thought I’d move it to the blog.  Hopefully, Mr. Liberty and his fellow traveler @DeanPerkins will come over for a look. 

Mr. Liberty makes two claims: that “illegal aliens” commit 75% of street crime in Southern California (later shifted to a claim that 75% of outstanding LA warrants are for “illegal aliens”), and that 95% of LA homicide warrants are for “illegal aliens.” Mr. Perkins later says something about “1000s [sic] shot in Chicago are fake,” which is not necessarily a claim that immigrants shoot thousands of people in that city, but comes across that way in this context.

Liberty supports his claim with two sources: “The Illegal Alien Crime Wave” (Heather Mac Donald, writing in the Winter 2004 issue of City Journal (published by the Manhattan Institute), and a 2011 GAO report on Criminal Alien Statistics.

The City Journal article focused on criticizing sanctuary city policies and lamented the lack of resources committed to limiting illegal immigration and deportation, among other complaints.  Mac Donald doesn’t really present evidence that a wave of crimes committed by immigrants existed in 2004, and she comes nowhere near supporting Liberty’s specific assertions.  It’s mostly a rant that government isn’t paying much attention to the immigrant crime problem.  Of course, even if she’d made a 2004 case it might not say much about what life is like 12 years later.

Mac Donald does make the “95% of homicide warrants” claim, but provides no source.  Indeed, she notes that readers won’t find “any reference to such facts in official crime analysis.” Think about what this means: Mac Donald does not rely on official crime analysis statistics to support her claim – she simply says something and then implies that government covered it up.  So even though Mac Donald quotes LAPD and other officials from Los Angeles who complain about immigrant and gang crime, she does not quote them citing LAPD or LACS statistics, as Liberty seems to claim in a later tweet.

So he simply cites as supporting evidence someone else who makes the same unsupported claim he makes.  Perhaps in his mind it must be true – he read it on the internet after all, and it makes sense to him because he hates and fears immigrants.  Of course, that’s not how evidence works.  In the end Liberty demonstrates a typical conservative tactic: make a specific claim (illegal immigrants commit 75% of street crime in Southern California) that has no supporting evidence of any kind, and later switch their claim to a more general one (lots of immigrants commit crimes and go to jail) that is of course true but banal.  Lots of people – immigrants and native-born Americans – break the law and go to jail for it.

It would appear that Liberty got this stuff from an email straight out of MyRightWingDad.  The Snopes article I tweeted in response fact checks an email that includes some of this, plus a claim that “75% of people on the most wanted list are illegal aliens.”  I suspect this is where Liberty got his “75% of outstanding LA warrants” claim.  Mac Donald does not mention this and therefore does not support Liberty.  The LA Most Wanted List is searchable but includes no data on immigration or citizenship status.  This strikes me as one of those times when the contents of a “you won’t believe this” email matches preconceived notions and so must be true – even if Liberty garbled the exact claim as if on the wrong end of a game of “telephone.”

Nor does the GAO report support either claim.  It focused on three research questions: “(1) the number and nationalities of incarcerated criminal aliens; (2) the types of offenses for which criminal aliens were arrested and convicted; and (3) the costs associated with incarcerating criminal aliens and the extent to which DOJ’s methodology for reimbursing states and localities for incarcerating criminal aliens is current and relevant.”  This says a lot about immigrant crime and incarceration in the US, but nothing at all about Los Angeles (or Southern California) specifically.  So I would ask Mr. Liberty to try again.

Mr. Perkins comes a bit closer.  As of yesterday, more than two thousand shootings have already occurred in Chicago this year according to the Chicago Tribune.  But immigrants, illegal or not, are not responsible for all of them, if that’s what he meant.

What does the evidence really say?  Peer-reviewed studies suggest that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans per capita, and more immigration seems to keep crime rates down.   This article shows that immigrants (including illegal immigrants) in Southern California are less likely to be arrested and incarcerated than native-born citizens.  The Wall Street Journal also pointed this out.

One more note: Before I took my quick look at this I would have expected sources like the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to include information on offender citizenship status, but if this or another source captures this I couldn’t find it in an afternoon of searching.  Perhaps my Google-fu needs work. If someone else out there can point me to a good database on this please do.  I’d love to know if I missed something.  For now it looks like right-wingers like Liberty and Perkins want to make people fear immigrants for no good reason.  If they or anyone else can help me see that I’m wrong, please do.

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