The Forgotten Issue: Illegal Immigration and Crime

Two new studies have been released this month on the relationship between illegal immigrants -- more aptly called border violators -- and crime in the U.S.  The first released October 1, 2008, by the Center for Immigration Studies deals with gang activity, and the second, released October 3, 2008, by the Maricopa County Attorneys Office in Phoenix, Arizona, details the percentage of crimes committed by border violators in the third largest county in the U.S.

"Taking Back the Streets: ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs" is the Center for Immigration Studies report that offers these highlights:

# Transnational immigrant gangs have been spreading rapidly and sprouting in suburban and rural areas where communities are not always equipped to deal with them.

# A very large share of immigrant gang members are illegal aliens and removable aliens. Federal sources estimate that 60 to 90 percent of the members of MS-13, the most notorious immigrant gang, are illegal aliens. In one jurisdiction studied, Northern Virginia, 30 to 40 percent of the gang task force case load were removable aliens.

# MS-13 activity was found in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

# The immigrant gangsters arrested were a significant menace to the public. About 80 percent had committed serious crimes in addition to their immigration violations and 40 percent were violent criminals.

# While immigration law enforcement is a federal responsibility, ICE cannot do the job effectively without assistance from state and local law enforcement, particularly when it comes to immigrant gangs.

# Failure to adequately control the U.S.-Mexico border and to deter illegal settlement in general undermines the progress ICE and local law enforcement agencies have made in disrupting criminal immigrant street gangs.

The MCAO report from County Attorney Andrew Thomas features these startling numbers for prosecuted felony cases in Maricopa County:

In 2007, illegal immigrants accounted for:
" 16.5% of those sentenced for violent crimes
" 18.5% of those sentenced for property crimes
" 33.5% of those sentenced for the manufacture, sale or transport of drugs
" 50% of those sentenced for crimes related to "chop shops"
" 35.8% of those sentenced for kidnapping
" 20.3% of those sentenced for felony DUI.

While this topic is off the radar screen in the presidential campaign, not even selected by Tom Brokaw for a question in the last presidential debate,  it certainly bears reporting when new information that bolsters the questioned warnings many Americans have been sounding about safety, security, and border enforcement come to light.

Meanwhile, despite the data cited by these two studies, local immigration rights organizations, community organizations (ACORN), and Democrat politicians in the Phoenix area continue to deny any relationship between those illegally in the country and crime. 

In Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has led numerous crime suppression sweeps that have netted many arrests of criminals with outstanding warrants and suspected border violators.  However, the Arizona Republic reports that the Phoenix Police chief, who works under the auspices of a Democrat mayor that seeks to remain non-offending to the illegal immigration population in town, has stated that resources are better spent on "serious" crime:

In almost all cities or neighborhoods where sweeps occurred, the crime trends in the month afterward reflected the same trends of months leading up to the sweeps. That would indicate other factors are affecting crime.

Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris has argued that illegal-immigrant sweeps divert resources from serious crime-fighting and undermine law enforcement by making illegal immigrants fearful of police.

Mesa Police Chief George Gascon publicly fretted that pro- and anti-Arpaio demonstrations might lead to violence.

Chagolla, the Sheriff's Office spokesman, said the sweeps are part of a comprehensive approach to crime that includes illegal immigration. "There is an impact on crime" when one considers the broader approach, which also involves jail screening and the human-smuggling unit, he said.

Many citizens agree with Arpaio.

This issue will come back again to the forefront.  Voters need to decide whether John McCain, who now embraces border security first, or Barack Obama, who favors amnesty, will best handle the problem.

Mr. Estrada is a Policy Analyst in the Office of the Maricopa County Attorneys Office.
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