Texas crime data has been used for years to argue that illegal immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population.
A new report by the Center for Immigration Studies says it’s all wrong. When the data is considered more broadly, the report says, rates of serious crimes such as homicide and sexual assault are substantially higher among illegal immigrants than among native-born and legal residents.
In 2012, Texas recorded three homicide convictions for every 100,000 people in the state. The rate among illegal immigrants is 30% higher, at 3.9 for every 100,000 people. Indeed, illegal immigrants showed a higher rate of homicide in all but one year from 2012 to 2019.
For sexual assaults, the rate among illegal immigrants is roughly double that of the general population, the Center for Immigration Studies found.
“At least when it comes to serious crime, illegals in Texas seem to have relatively high crime rates,” said Steven A. Camarota, one of the researchers on the report. “The argument to the contrary is based on a misunderstanding or a misreading of the data.”
The criminal behavior of illegal immigrants — beyond their initial illegal entry or visa violation that left them in unauthorized status — has raged for decades.
Supporters of sanctuary cities argue that illegal immigrant crime rates are low and the bigger danger would be to deter them from reporting crimes. Those who favor stricter enforcement argue that crimes committed by illegal immigrants wouldn’t happen if the government did its job.
The problem is there’s little good data available to draw conclusions.
The data set from the Texas Department of Public Safety had been considered an exception. The state includes an entry for immigration status in its prison records, giving researchers a chance to look at convictions and make calculations.
Several researchers, including the Cato Institute, have done so. A University of Wisconsin researcher’s work was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cato said in a 2020 version of its study that the illegal immigrant conviction rate in Texas in 2018 was 782 per 100,000 people, compared with 1,422 for native-born Americans.
For homicide specifically, Cato said, the rate was 2.5 per 100,000 among illegal immigrants and 3.3 among native-born Americans.
Mr. Camarota said that study looked at a snapshot in time of those categorized as illegal immigrants at intake.
It turns out that not all illegal immigrants are flagged at the start. Someone not flagged at intake could be determined to be an illegal immigrant several years into incarceration in Texas.
Using the initial intake data is akin to looking at a football score at halftime and naming the winning team.
The longer the incarceration, the better the chance that Texas will properly flag unauthorized status, Mr. Camarota said.
Applying the more complete data to 2018, he found that Texas flagged 48 homicide convicts as illegal immigrants at intake for a rate of 2.7 per 100,000. Texas has since flagged another eight, bringing the rate to 3.1. The overall rate is 2.9, according to the data released this week.
Mr. Camarota said the data becomes less reliable for lesser crimes because of shorter sentences. Those convicted aren’t in the system long enough for the process to flag all the illegal immigrants.
The data Mr. Camarota did collect showed striking differences in rates of various crimes.
Illegal immigrants had significantly lower rates of theft, drug crimes, fraud offenses and public order entanglements but higher rates of traffic offenses, sex offenses, sexual assaults and homicides.
Texas public safety officials did not return calls for comment on the data and the new findings.
Alex Nowrasteh, Cato’s immigration expert, said he ran the same numbers as Mr. Camarota and still found a lower homicide rate among illegal immigrants in 2018, with 3 per 100,000 compared with 3.2 for the native-born population.
He also said Mr. Camarota is using a lower estimate for the illegal immigrant population. Mr. Camarota uses the one from the Center for Migration Studies.
Using the Homeland Security Department’s estimate for 2018, which is higher than CMS’s estimate, would drop the homicide conviction rate for illegal immigrants in Texas to 2.9 per 100,000 people.
Mr. Nowrasteh said Mr. Camarota’s estimates track closely with Homeland Security’s, so he said it was striking that Mr. Camarota used CMS’s numbers.
“In other words, CIS picked a lower illegal immigrant population estimate produced by CMS that drives their results,” he said.
Mr. Camarota said he doesn’t do a state breakdown in his illegal population estimates, so he doesn’t have a figure for Texas. He also said CMS’s numbers are the most up-to-date, which was why he used them.
He acknowledged that if CMS is underestimating the illegal immigrant population, it would mean the denominator is wrong and the crime rate would be lower. Whatever estimate is used, he said, the results undercut Cato’s conclusions.
“What we can say is whether you use DHS or CMS numbers, the crime rates are not low,” Mr. Camarota told The Times. “People have cited and cited [those numbers], and it’s an echo chamber that illegal immigrants have low crime rates based largely on this analysis — and it’s not correct.”
Mr. Camarota said it’s “unclear” whether the crime rates in Texas are matched elsewhere in the country.
Cato has raised questions about how Texas identifies illegal immigrants.
Someone in the U.S. on a legal visa at the time of their crime but later falls out of status would be flagged as illegal. If Texas includes that data, it could skew the numbers toward a higher rate of illegal immigrant crime.
Mr. Camarota said his understanding of Texas’ data is that it doesn’t recategorize legal immigrants to illegal immigrants over time.