Jan 8, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Reality check: Trump's claims on immigrants and crime

Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office for his national address

Photo: Carlos Barria-Pool/Getty Images

In a national address from the Oval Office Tuesday night, President Trump defended his demand for a wall on the southern border with Mexico by claiming unauthorized immigrants bring crime and drugs into the U.S. at devastating levels.

Reality check: The majority of immigrants arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection have had no criminal history. The vast majority of opioids seized at the border, meanwhile, come through legal ports of entry.

Between the lines: Trump cited data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency that has historically designated immigrants with criminal records as a priority for arrests. Some 66% of the immigrants arrested by ICE had been convicted of crimes, according to their most recent report. But at the border, where Trump wants to erect a border wall, the number of criminals arrested is significantly lower.

  • As of Aug. 31, 361,993 immigrants had been apprehended by CBP in FY 2018, but only 6,259 — or 1.7% — had a prior criminal record, according to CBP data.
  • Of those, more than 3,600 convictions were for illegal entry or reentry into the U.S. and more than a thousand for driving under the influence. There were only three convictions of manslaughter and 506 for assault, battery or domestic violence.

Trump’s claim about ICE arrests was a close approximation, according to ICE data.

  • He said 266,000 immigrants with criminal records have been arrested over the past two years, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 “violent killings.”
    • ICE enforces immigration law inside the U.S., while CBP enforces immigration at the borders.
  • The most common crimes committed by immigrants arrested by ICE are non-violent crimes such as DUIs, other traffic violations or immigration-related offenses, which could include illegal entry.
  • When it comes to drug trafficking, Mexico is indeed a significant source for illegal and at times deadly drugs, especially heroin, as Trump claimed. But the vast majority of opioids confiscated by CBP come through legal ports of entry — something a border wall would not prevent.

The bottom line: It is accurate that some unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. have committed violent crimes and that drug trade at the border has stirred violence and impacted American lives. But studies have found that immigrants in the U.S. are overall less likely to commit crimes or end up in prison than native-born Americans.

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