Majority of Undocumented Immigrants Detained for Serious Crimes Have No Criminal Convictions

Friday, September 11, 2015
(photo: Richard Drew, AP)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has said he wants law enforcement to focus on people with criminal records when rounding up undocumented immigrants. Yet the vast majority being detained for alleged crimes have turned out to have no criminal convictions.


This finding was discovered by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which looked at data regarding “immigration holds” by police for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


Esther Yu-Hsi Lee at ThinkProgress wrote that the TRAC report challenges assertions by DHS that immigration authorities would only pursue immigrants who had committed serious crimes. DHS’s Johnson has said the focus should be on those who pose a “demonstrable risk to national security” or who have been “convicted of specifically enumerated crimes.”


Yet the TRAC report said that of the 7,993 people detained in April, two-thirds of them (68%) had not been convicted of a crime. Only 19% had a felony conviction. This data stands in spite of the fact that, overall, fewer immigrants are being detained on the basis of criminality, and that there has been a 39% drop in total number of detainers issued between 2013 and 2014, according to TRAC.


Furthermore, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to sweep up immigrants based on criminal convictions from years past, going so far as to pull in individuals who have just been released from jail, according to ThinkProgress.


The sheer energy, manpower and expense of pursuing undocumented immigrants as a means of crime prevention may actually be misplaced. Studies have shown that, in fact, immigrants are associated with lower, not higher, crime rates, according to Pacific Standard’s Claude S. Fischer.


“Behind the headlines, the daily reality on the streets of the United States seems to be that immigrants bring less crime,” he wrote. “Now…we have new studies and more technically sophisticated ones on the topic. What do they say about the effects of immigration on crime and violence? The research I reviewed…is pretty consistent: Immigrants and concentrations of immigrants are associated with lower rates of crime and homicide. To be more cautious: at minimum, there is no connection between immigration and higher rates of crime.”


Supporting this view is a report (pdf) from the American Immigration Council which showed that among men aged 18 to 39, the group most likely to commit crimes, immigrants are less than half as likely to be incarcerated as those born in this country. The incarceration rate as of 2010 was 3.3% for the native-born and 1.6% for immigrants. That ratio has held steady over the preceding three decades as well.

-Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

More Proof That Immigrants Aren’t All Criminals (by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, ThinkProgress)

Illegal Immigration Might Actually Reduce Crime Rates (by Claude S. Fischer, Pacific Standard)

Immigrants less Likely to Commit Crimes than Native-Born Americans (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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