Illegal Aliens Murder at a Much Higher Rate Than US Citizens Do

It’s time to fact-check the fact-checkers. The Washington Post’s Michelle Yee Hee Lee gave Donald Trump four Pinocchios for saying, “They’re bringing crime” across the border from Mexico. The Post scribe added, “Trump clarified that he was referring to cases where undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes or smuggle drugs.”

First off, Trump did not put any numbers on his statements. All he said was that some undocumented immigrants commit crimes in the U.S. And we know that is true.

Secondly, as even the Washington Post admits, Trump was not talking about all Mexicans, especially not Hispanic U.S. citizens. He was talking about undocumented immigrants.

The more problematic aspect is Trump’s implication that undocumented immigrants are more criminal than the average U.S. citizen. That implication is what the Washington Post “fact checked” and found false.

The Government Accountability Office has data that show otherwise. Here is the leading sentence from a 2011 GAO report (GAO-11-187, Criminal Alien Statistics, March 2011).

“The number of criminal aliens in federal prisons in fiscal year 2010 was about 55,000, and the number of SCAAP criminal alien incarcerations in state prison systems and local jails was about 296,000 in fiscal year 2009 (the most recent data available), and the majority were from Mexico.”

(SCAAP is the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and in this context means “illegal aliens” – a GAO term meaning “Noncitizens whom ICE verified were [or whom states and local jurisdictions believe to be] illegally in the United States at the time of incarceration”.)

As for those federal prisoners, the GAO states, “In fiscal year 2005, the criminal alien population in federal prisons was around 27 percent of the total inmate population, and from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 remained consistently around 25 percent.”

The Washington Post cites an even higher number for 2013, 38.6%, yet dismisses those federal numbers as “not indicative of general crime trends of non-citizens,” because most criminals are incarcerated in state or local facilities.

The Facts

Per the GAO, “as of fiscal 2009, the total alien – non-U.S.-citizen – population was about 25.3 million, including about 10.8 million aliens without lawful immigration status.”

Since the population of the U.S. was about 306.8 million in 2009, non-citizens comprised 8.25% of the population and illegal aliens about 3.52%. (Recall that they represented 25% of the federal prison population then, and almost 39% in 2013.)

How many crimes did they commit? Almost three million. Here they are.

Now here is where the data get dicey: how do we convert these numbers to rates so that we can compare illegal aliens and non-citizens to other groups, such as U.S. citizens or inhabitants? We have to look at how the GAO determined those estimates.

“To determine the type of offenses for which criminal aliens were convicted, we analyzed data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission on federal convictions of criminal aliens from fiscal years 2003 through 2009 and conviction data from five states – Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas – from fiscal years 2005 through 2008.”

So now we have an apples and oranges problem. The federal data cover seven years and all non-citizens. The state and local data cover four years and illegal aliens only (and only those reported via SCAAP).

Let’s take homicide as an example. The GAO estimates “criminal aliens” were arrested, convicted and incarcerated for 25,064 homicides. If non-citizens committed them over seven years, the annual rate would be 14.2 per 100,000 non-citizens. If illegal aliens committed them over four years, the annual rate would be 58.0 per 100,000 illegal aliens. Either way you compute, those are high rates.

By comparison, the FBI reports the murder rates for the entire U.S. from 2003 through 2009 varied from 5.0 to 5.8 per 100,000 inhabitants for an average rate of 5.5. To be clear, 5.5 is much lower than either 14.2 or 58.0.

Or look at the total number of homicides in those years. Per the FBI, there were 67,642 murders in the U.S. from 2005 through 2008, and 115,717 from 2003 through 2009. Per the GAO, criminal aliens committed 25,064 of them. That means they committed 22% to 37% of all murders in the U.S., while being only 3.52% to 8.25% of the population.

Conclusion: criminal and illegal aliens commit murder at much higher rates than all inhabitants of the U.S. – at least 3 to 10 times higher.

And I believe these are low-end estimates. For one, murder is almost always handled at the state and local level, not the federal level. So the GAO’s homicide data are skewed toward the state and local data, which cover fewer years (four) and a smaller population (illegals only). The Washington Post states that “Federal prisoners made up 10 percent of the total incarcerated populations in the United States in 2013.”

OK, let’s assume that 90% of the crimes listed by the GAO (other than immigration itself) were committed by SCAAP persons in state and local institutions. That would mean illegal aliens committed 22,558 murders over four years. That is a rate of 5,639 per year, or over 15 per day. (For reference, Rep. Steve King reported a figure of 12 per day. A sheriffs’ association is reported to estimate it at 25 per day. I don’t know how reliable these values are, but they are not totally out of line with the GAO’s data.)

That would give a murder rate for illegal aliens of 52 per 100,000 (5,639 in a population of 10.8 million) – about 10 times that of U.S. citizens.

Here are the numbers of crimes per day committed by illegal aliens in just a few crime categories, based on those GAO numbers and the 90% figure for SCAAP persons over four years.

  • Kidnappings:  9
  • Murders:         15
  • Sex offenses:   43
  • Burglaries:       71
  • Assaults:         131

(You may try to compare those numbers to the FBI’s numbers for all crimes, but the categories do not match except for murder/homicide. That is part of what makes this analysis so frustrating, and ripe for cherry-picking by pro-immigrant groups.)

Also, the criminal alien numbers came from those arrested, convicted and incarcerated for these crimes, and reported as such via SCAAP. Yet the FBI numbers include all crimes, solved or not, convictions or not. How many illegal aliens committed murder or other crimes in the U.S. without getting caught and convicted of them?

As difficult as it is to interpret the little data there is on the subject of criminal aliens, the most reliable and recent data are for fiscal year 2009. That leaves us with virtually all of the Obama administration not accounted for. And the most transparent administration in history, the one that killed the U.S. Statistical Abstract and doctors global temperature data every month, is not very transparent with data. (For fun, explain this Federal Reserve web site, which shows that data series on health insurance coverage rates were discontinued just as Obamacare started taking effect.)

So whether things have gotten better or worse in the last six years regarding crimes committed by illegal aliens, we can do little better than guess. But here is some more information from the GAO to aid your guessing.

“Since 2012, there has been a rapid increase in the number of UAC [Unaccompanied Children] apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border. According to DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of UAC from any country apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border climbed from more than 24,000 in fiscal year 2012 to nearly 39,000 in fiscal year 2013, and to nearly 69,000 in fiscal year 2014.”

That’s a 187% increase in two years.

The Gruber Test

The Washington Post stated:

“Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public perception that crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration. But that is a misperception; no solid data support it, and the data that do exist negate it.”

But the GAO’s numbers do support that perception. Namely that illegals and non-citizens make up 3% and 8% of the population, respectively, but commit at least 22% to 37% of the murders. Illegals likely commit murder at about 10 times the rate of all U.S. inhabitants.

You might try to dismiss Kate Steinle as an “anecdote,” but the GAO estimated there were 25,064 such anecdotes over only a few years.

Four Grubers

Having fact-checked the fact-checker, there is no verdict possible other than Four Grubers for Ms. Lee.

Randall Hoven can be reached at or, when not on sabbatical with the Sweet Meteor of Death, on Twitter.

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