Department of Homeland Security officially spreading lies about immigrant crime

No, undocumented immigrants don’t “routinely victimize Americans.”

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at news conference as cars enter the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on February 10. CREDIT: AP Photo/Denis Poroy
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at news conference as cars enter the United States from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on February 10. CREDIT: AP Photo/Denis Poroy

A Department of Homeland Security memo authored by Secretary John Kelly asserts that “criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents.”

The memo, entitled “Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest,” creates a new federal office meant to work with those victims.

“Accordingly, I am establishing the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office within the Office of the Director of ICE, which will create a programmatic liaison between ICE and the known victims of crimes committed by removable aliens,” Kelly writes. “To that end, I direct the Director of ICE to immediately reallocate any and all resources that are currently used to advocate on behalf of illegal aliens to the new VOICE Office, and to immediately terminate the provision of such outreach or advocacy services to illegal aliens.”

But Homeland Security’s new VOICE office is based on a false premise. Data indicates undocumented immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than American citizens, and are actually less likely to be criminals in some cases.

The literature is summarized in a 2015 Cato Institute report entitled, “Immigration and Crime — What the Research Says.” Here are some key findings from studies cited in the report.

— One study found that “roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18–39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.” The study found the disparity in census data spanning three decades — from 1980 to 2010.

— Another found that the phased rollout of the Secure Communities (S-COMM) immigration enforcement program didn’t reduce crime in affected communities. S-COMM “led to no meaningful reduction in the FBI index crime rate,” researchers found. If undocumented immigrants were more likely to commit criminal acts, you’d expect to see crime rates decrease as undocumented immigrants were removed from communities. That wasn’t the case.

— Another study “looked at 159 cities at three dates between 1980 and 2000 and found that crime rates and levels of immigration are not correlated,” the CATO report says, summarizing the findings.

— Another “looked at a sample of 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and found that levels of recent immigration had a statistically significant negative effect on homicide rates but no effect on property crime rates.” Yet another study found that an influx of immigrants is actually correlated with decreases in homicide and robbery rates.

— A study that looked looked at 103 different MSAs from 1994–2004 found that “the weight of the evidence suggests that immigration is not associated with increased levels of crime. To the extent that a relationship does exist, research often finds a negative effect of immigration on levels of crime, in general, and on homicide in particular.”

Last month, Richard Pérez-Peña of the New York Times alluded to some of the aforementioned research, writing, “several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.” Pérez-Peña’s report is entitled, “Contrary to Trump’s Claims, Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes.”

While citizens don’t have reason to fear undocumented immigrants more than they would any other person, the two memos distributed by Homeland Security on Tuesday makes gives undocumented immigrants good reason to by fearful of anyone with a badge.

As ThinkProgress covered in another post, Kelly’s memos detail “an implementation plan to hire thousands more immigration officials, make more criminal offenses punishable by deportation, allow local law enforcement officials to carry out federal immigration duties, and make it easier to prevent entry to asylum-seeking children who show up at the southern U.S. border.”

During a rally on Saturday, President Trump, who frequently showcased family members of victims of crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants during his campaign, resorted to making up an incident in Sweden in order to fear-monger about immigrants.

Once it became clear that the “Swedish incident” was based on Trump’s misinterpretation of a Fox News segment, the president claimed he was actually referring to how immigrants are disproportionately responsible for crime in Sweden in general. In fact, crime rates in Sweden have remained flat from 2005 to 2014 — a period of time during which the country opened its doors to immigrants refugees.