Younger illegal immigrants in Arizona make up a far larger percentage of the state’s prison inmates than their share of the population would suggest, according to a new analysis.
While illegal immigrants ages 18 to 35 — a group immigration activists call “Dreamers” — are about 2 percent of of the Arizona population, they are almost 8 percent of the prison population. The over-representation by a factor of four shows that younger illegal immigrants in Arizona are far more likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens or legal immigrants of a similar age, says John Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.
“Even after adjusting for the fact that young people commit crime at higher rates, young undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young U.S. citizens,” Lott wrote in a report published Thursday. “These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes.”
Lott’s analysis uses data from the Arizona Department of Corrections, which identifies inmates by citizenship and immigration status. It compiles conviction data from 1985 through 2017, using criminal convictions as a proxy for criminality. That metric may actually understate the propensity for criminal behavior among illegal immigrants, because their victims, often illegal immigrants themselves, are less likely to report crime.
“Our reliance on conviction data means that there is a greater confidence in the accuracy of whether these individuals have committed crime,” the report stated. “But it also means that we are underestimating the number of crimes and social costs of criminal activity by undocumented immigrants.”
The Arizona report comes as lawmakers in Washington debate the scope of a bill to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a reprieve from deportation. President Donald Trump cancelled the Obama-era program last year and gave Congress until March to craft a legislative replacement.
Bills introduced by Republicans and Democrats diverge sharply when it comes to the scope of a potential DACA fix. Some conservatives want an amnesty that applies only to the roughly 790,000 original DACA beneficiaries, while Democrats and immigration activists are demanding a bill that covers those recipients plus millions of other similar illegal immigrants.
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The smaller pool of DACA recipients doesn’t commit crime at a higher rate than native-born Americans, but the larger population of younger illegal immigrants is much more crime-prone, according to Lott’s research. In Arizona, illegal immigrants of all ages are 142 percent more likely to be convicted of a crime than other residents, but that figure rises to 250 percent among the 18-35 age cohort.
They also serve longer prison sentences — an average of 10 percent longer — because they tend to commit more serious crimes and are overrepresented among convictions for murder, manslaughter, sexual assault and armed robbery. Lott says his findings have implications for lawmakers as they debate the scope of a DACA replacement bill.
“Unfortunately, if the goal of DACA is to give citizenship to a particularly law-abiding group of undocumented immigrants, it is accomplishing the opposite of what was intended,” Lott wrote.
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