National Data | LA Internet Legends More Accurate Than WSJ Edit Page
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As a researcher who prefers to work at home, the internet is a godsend for me. A few Google searches, quick clicks on authoritative websites, and I have the data I need to write on virtually any topic. No more long hours in dusty library stacks!


But, perhaps because I honed my research skills the old fashioned way, I am wary of the disembodied factoids common on the Internet. Allan Wall recently put in perspective one widely circulated email contrasting US and Mexican treatment of immigrants. Another example: an email making assertions about illegal immigration into Califonia mostly sourced to the LA Times, but without dates, authors, or urls. (See for the original email.)

Others, including bloggers at the LA Times, have tried myth-busting this one. But they have neither our expertise, nor our patriotic motivation and seem more interested in protecting the good name of illegal aliens.

Bottom line on both these emails: they are sometimes careless, exaggerated or guesses, possibly accurate, in areas where the authorities refuse to collect data. But they do reflect the underlying reality better than, say, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page.

Here's my point by point commentary.

1. 40% of all workers in L.A. County (L.A. County has 10.2 million people) are working for cash and not paying taxes. This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants working without a green card.

Too high. The magnitude of the underground (informal) labor force in LA, and its illegal alien component, is addressed in a 2006 study of the Pat Brown Institute:

"Our best estimate is that on a typical day in 2004 there were 679,000 informal workers in [LA] county and 303,800 in the city [of LA]. These workers are estimated to account for 15 percent of the county labor force and 16 percent of the city's labor force, as shown in Table 1. We estimate that undocumented immigrants account for 23 percent of the foreign born population in the county and 25 percent in the city, and make up 61 percent of the informal labor force in the county and 65 percent in the city." [Poverty, Inequality and Justice: A Vanishing Middle Class in Southern California, March 22, 2006 PDF]

This statement implies that, at most, 15% of LA County's labor force is paid off the books—but that illegal aliens could account for as much as 61 percent of this group.

IIn other words, the real fraction of the LA County work force that is illegal is nearer 10%. Of course, that's still extraordinary.

2. 95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.

Sort of. This is from Heather Mac Donald's study published by the Center For Immigration Studies. [Crime and the Illegal Alien, CIS Backgrounder, June 2004.] While LAPD officers apparently told her this, there is no corroborating data posted at the Department's website. Indeed, such info may not be formally collected due to the city's sanctuary laws.

Mac Donald actually used the term "outstanding warrants," which casts her statement in a somewhat different light. Illegals may well be disproportionately represented in outstanding homicide warrants because they are more likely to flee before their cases are adjudicated—not necessarily because they commit a larger share of murders. Homicide warrants can remain outstanding for years; the 95 percent does not pertain to warrants issued in a particular year or period of time.

This interpretation is supported by a 1998UC-Davis summary off immigration issues that notes:

"The Los Angeles Police Department has a 12-year old Foreign Prosecution Unit that pursues suspects who fled the US after committing crimes in Los Angeles and gives testimony when they are prosecuted aboard. The United States does not have extradition treaties with most Latin American countries but many countries, for example, Mexico, Nicaragua or El Salvador try suspects for murder and other violent crimes committed in the US.

"The Foreign Prosecution Unit was founded in 1985, after a study found that nearly half [ER:
Emphasis added] of the LAPD's outstanding arrest warrants involved Mexican nationals who were presumed to have fled the country. The FPU works with Interpol to find suspects who flee abroad and then prepares the evidence so that the person can be arrested and prosecuted. The FPU clears about one-third of its cases, compared to two-thirds of all homicide cases in Los Angeles.

"Nearly half" is not the same as 95 percent. But it's still appalling.

3. 75% of people on the most wanted list in Los Angeles are illegal aliens.

Maybe. Nine of "Top Ten Most Wanted" on the LAPD website had Hispanic surnames, when we checked on September 28, 2008. (The tenth was an Armenian.) Next to each mug shot is the usual info: sex, "Descent" (white, Hispanic, etc.), DOB, height, weight, etc. Nothing on country of birth or immigration status. Thus this claim cannot be substantiated.  But it may well be true, or almost true, or some perps could be legal immigrants. The real question: why doesn't the LAPD report immigrant status?

4. Over 2/3 of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Midi-Cal, [sic, they mean Medi-Cal] wwhose births were paid for by taxpayers.

Too high. I've just looked into births to immigrant mothers in California cities as part of a study of Sanctuary City laws. In 2006, the latest year of available data, 30.2% of births to LA residents were to mothers born in Mexico.  The share of LA babies born to Mexican mothers has come down in recent years: it had been 33.8% in 2001. This reflects all births—to legal and illegal. Some of these Mexican mothers must be legal immigrants, so the assertion that "over 2/3 of all births" are to illegal alien Mexicans is off the mark.

But the reality is extraordinary enough: Immigrants in total accounted for 54% of LA births in 2006. A good portion must be illegals. And yes, Medi-Cal pays.

5. Nearly 35% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally.

Not exactly. The figure, stated as 25% in some internet postings, appears to trace from Heather MacDonald's April 2005 testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims:

"The LA County Sheriff reported in 2000 that 23% of inmates in county jails were deportable, according to the New York Times."

McDonald's statement pertains to all criminal aliens—i.e., all immigrants convicted of crimes.  This obviously includes both legal and illegal immigrants, from Mexico and any other country.  Again, that's still pretty amazing.

6. Over 300,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages.

Who knows? As we've seen (point # 1, above) about a quarter of LA County's 10-plus million people are illegal aliens i.e. some 2.5 million. Many illegals do live in crowded housing conditions and some undoubtedly sleep in garages. But that's about all we know. Neither the U.S. Census nor LA authorities collect data on garage-dwellers, since such conversions are illegal.

7. The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border.

 Up to a point. This appears loosely related to Heather Mac Donald's April 2005 congressional testimony:

"No one knows for certain the percentage of illegal in gangs, thanks in large part to sanctuary laws themselves. But various estimates exist:

—A confidential California Department of Justice study reported in 1995 that 60 percent of the 20,000-strong 18th Street Gang in southern California is illegal; police officers say the proportion is actually much greater. The bloody gang collaborates with the Mexican Mafia, the dominant force in California prisons, on complex drug-distribution schemes, extortion, and drive-by assassinations. It commits an assault or robbery every day in L.A. County. The gang has grown dramatically over the last two decades by recruiting recently arrived youngsters, most of them illegal, from Central America and Mexico."  

Note that Mac Donald sources the statement to the California Department of Justice (not the FBI), and it pertains to one gang—a gang that likely has the highest rate of illegal membership. A search of the FBI's website revealed several reports on LA gangs, but no data on illegal alien membership.

8. Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal.

Probably too high.  I found no discussion on HUD's LA website. (Why not?) However, this statement appears on another website supposedly devoted to debunking internet froth:

"HUD provides no data for LA County. They do admit that at least 5% of all HUD housing in California is occupied by illegal aliens."

9. 21 radio stations in L.A. are Spanish speaking.

Almost. This from e-rumor, a website devoted to debunking internet froth of all types:

"As the Spanish-speaking population of Los Angeles has grown so has the presence of Spanish-speaking media. We counted about 18 stations in Los Angeles that are either Spanish or are multi-cultural and include Spanish in their music or programming. At this writing, four of the top ten stations in Los Angeles are Spanish and the number-one station is usually Spanish."

10. In L. A. County 5.1 million people speak English, 3.9 million speak Spanish. (There are 10.2 million people in L.A. County.)

Definitely in the ballpark. The 2000 Census reported 6.0 million residents of LA County spoke English exclusively or "very well" with other languages, and 3.33 million spoke Spanish. The figures count people 5 years and over only.

11. Less than 2% of illegal aliens are picking our crops, but 29% are on welfare.

Why the "but"? There's no apparent reason to link these two facts—unless you believe only crop pickers are worthy of, or eligible for, welfare.

Regarding the first point, 3 percent of illegal alien workers are employed in "farming" according to the Pew Research Center. That is three times the 1 percent share of native workers falling into the same occupational group. [Jeffrey S. Passel, Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics,  June 14, 2005.]

As for welfare, illegal immigrants themselves are not eligible—but their U.S.-born children are, if parental income is low enough.  In 2007 27 percent of households headed by illegal aliens received Medicaid, 33 percent received food assistance such as food stamps, WIC, or school lunch benefits, while less than 1% received outright cash assistance. A whopping 40 percent received least one major welfare program, according to a CIS study. [Steve Camarota, "Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America's Foreign-born  Population," Center for Immigration Studies, November 2007.]

12. Over 70% of the United States' annual population growth (and over 90% of California, Florida, and New York) results from immigration.

An understatement! Pew Research estimates that 82% of U.S. population between now and 2050 will be from immigration. This includes the U.S.-born children of future immigrants. [Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn, U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050, Pew Research Center, February 11, 2008.]

13. 29% of inmates in federal prisons are illegal aliens.

A misunderstanding. In 2004 27.2% of Federal prison inmates were "criminal aliens," non-citizens convicted of a crime. This group includes resident aliens—i.e., people here legally, albeit not long enough to become naturalized citizens. No data is collected on what percent of criminal aliens are illegals. [GAO, Letter to Congressman John N. Hostettler, April 7, 2005. [PDF]

My conclusion: This email is accurate enough to suggest that the writer was not malicious but simply an amateur making mistakes in a difficult technical area.

But at least this writer is a patriotic amateur. What do we conclude about professionals in government and the MSM who refuse to face the facts at all?

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.

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