Donald Trump traveled to Mexico City on Aug. 31 to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto before Trump delivered a speech on immigration in Phoenix, Arizona, later that day. After recent speculation that Trump was softening his immigration policy, the Republican nominee made it clear in Phoenix that he still held harsh positions when it came to undocumented immigrants, and argued that there are high crime rates among these communities of immigrants. In response, immigration activist Enrique Morones proved Trump wrong yet again, by pointing out that there is not a significant correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime.
"Undocumented people are much more likely not to commit crimes," Morones said on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. "They're way under the radar as far as committing crimes." Morones is the founder and director of Border Angels, a San Diego based nonprofit that works on immigration reform and migrant outreach programs. The group is particularly well known for hiding water bottles in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border, in an attempt to prevent undocumented immigrants from dying of thirst as they cross into the country. As an activist who works extensively with undocumented communities, Morones is right to contradict Trump's frequent criminalization of undocumented immigrants.
Let's take a look at the numbers. According to a 2015 report from the American Immigration Council, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million between 1990 and 2013. During that same period, the report stated, FBI data indicates a 48 percent decrease in violent crime rates, as well as a 41 percent decrease in property crime rates.
Many conservatives have pointed to specific incidents — like the death of Kate Steinle, who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco — as proof of violent crime rates in undocumented communities, but that is not a viable assertion backed up by data. According to USA Today, U.S. Sentencing Commission data indicated that in 2013, undocumented immigrants represented 7 percent of federal prison sentences following convictions on charges of sexual abuse, 9 percent of murders, 12 percent of assaults and 30 percent of kidnappings, despite making up only 3.5 percent of the population. The issue with using that data to incriminate undocumented immigrants is that most violent crimes in the country are not handled by the federal court system, as USA Today pointed out. Additionally, undocumented immigrants are much more likely to face federal courts on immigration-related offenses than they are for other crimes.
Last summer, after Trump had launched his campaign, The Washington Post highlighted multiple studies indicating that there is generally a low correlation between foreign-born individuals and crime — this includes undocumented folks. If we look at some state-based statistics, we can see why it's important to look beyond the federal court system. For example, a June 2008 paper by the Public Policy Institute of California found that "immigrant adults have lower incarceration rates than U.S.-born adults in California," even if they are overrepresented in the federal prison system due to immigration violations. A 2005 paper from Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago asserted that recently arrived immigrants were even less likely to commit crimes than those who had arrived before them.
And if you were to focus specifically on undocumented immigrants from Mexico, like Trump does — though they account for only half of the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center — you would find that Morones' argument holds true. The AIC report cited above also indicates that Mexican-born immigrant males between the ages of 18 and 39 who don't have have a high school diploma had a 2.8 percent crime rate in 2010, which is lower than the 3.3 percent recorded crime rate for American-born men in that same age range. Overall, people who were born in the U.S. are five times more likely to be incarcerated than are immigrants, according to a 2007 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
At the very least, it would be difficult to argue as Trump does that undocumented immigrants are predisposed to high crime rates while also having reliable data to back up that assertion. So, just as he has been proven wrong many times before, Trump has been justifiably contradicted yet again.