The statistics on immigrants and crime are shocking -- but not for the reasons Buchanan et al. would have you believe. It's hard to pin down statistics on how many crimes are committed by immigrants (or all Hispanics, for that matter) because the Bureau of Justice Statistics (the largest source of data) collects information broken down by race and gender, but not ethnicity or country of birth. However, it is possible to examine who's in jail or prison by nativity, which should be a pretty good proxy for determining who is committing serious crimes. And when you look at this data, the results are little short of amazing.
University of California professor Ruben Rumbaut, an expert on immigration and crime, looked at 2000 Census data on the institutionalized population in the United States, most of whom are in prisons, and came up with these astonishing facts. Immigrants are far less likely to be in jail or prison than other U.S. residents (the database covers federal, state, county and local prisons and jails). Of the U.S. population of 45.2 million men ages 18-39 (those most likely to be in the criminal population), 3 percent were incarcerated, or about 1.3 million at the time of the 2000 Census. But of these, blacks, whites and U.S.-born Hispanics had incarceration rates that dwarfed those of immigrants. Only .7 percent of Mexican-born males were in prison or jail, compared with 3.51 percent of all U.S.-born males, which includes 1.71 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 11.6 percent of blacks and 5.9 percent of Mexican Americans. Indeed, for all foreign-born groups, immigrants have lower incarceration rates than all U.S.-born racial and ethnic groups do, including whites.
But these facts have yet to banish the factoid that immigrants commit more crimes than the native born. And you can bet that demagogues like Buchanan will continue to ignore the facts and repeat the factoids.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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