National Data | Criminal Alien Nation
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Criminal aliens—non-citizens convicted of crimes—are a growing threat.

In 1980, our Federal and state facilities held fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens. But at the end of 2003, approximately 267,000 non-citizens were incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities, as follows

  • 46,000 in Federal prisons
  • 74,000 in state prisons
  • 147,000 in local jails
[Table 1]

Approximately 27 percent of all prisoners in Federal custody are criminal aliens. The majority (63 percent) are citizens of Mexico. Other major nationalities include Columbia and the Dominican Republic (7 percent each); Jamaica 4 percent; Cuba 3 percent; El Salvador 2 percent; and Honduras, Haiti, and Guatemala (1 percent each).

The remaining 11 percent are from are 164 different countries. Diversity is strength!

The Federal government spent $1.43 billion to incarcerate criminal aliens in fiscal 2004. This total includes $280 million of reimbursements made to state and local governments under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program [SCAAP]. But SCAAP funds cover less than 25 percent of the full cost of incarcerating criminal aliens in state and local correctional facilities, according to the GAO.

Still, the public costs of incarcerating aliens are trivial alongside the private costs they impose on their victims. The GAO recently analyzed the rap sheets of more than 55,000 illegal aliens incarcerated in federal, state, and local facilities during 2003.[Source: General Accountability Office, "Information on Certain Illegal Aliens Arrested in the United States," Letter to Congressman John N. Hostettler, May 9, 2005.]

It found:

  • The average criminal alien was arrested for 13 prior offenses
  • 81 percent of their arrests occurred after 1990
In a word, criminal aliens are not your casual law breaker. Most are recidivists—AKA career criminals. The economic burden they impose on victims, including loss of income and property, uncompensated hospital bills, and emotional pain and suffering – has been estimated at $1.6 million per property and assault crime offender. [Source: Anne Morrison Piehl and John J. DiLulio, "Does prison pay?"]

So the benefits of incarcerating criminal aliens far outweigh the costs.

Better yet: Deport them! In fact about 40,000 aliens are deported annually after serving time for murder, assault, robbery, drug possession, and other criminal offenses. [Table 2.] But they regularly make their way back to the United States, where "sanctuary policies" often prohibit police from reporting them to immigration authorities. Many stay here decades after getting their deportation orders.

Nationally an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 illegal immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes still walk the streets. For them, crime pays.

Last happy thought: these numbers underestimate the impact of immigration on crime.

  • Criminal aliens for whom states and localities are not reimbursed under the SCAAP program are not included.
Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.
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