National Data | WSJ Edit Page Whitewashes The Immigration Problem….Again
Print Friendly and PDF

Crime rates have declined in the last fifteen years. So have welfare rolls. Employment is at record levels. All this at a time when the illegal alien population has doubled, and maybe even quadrupled.

So illegal aliens are good for us. Right?

Well, that's the implication of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial Keeping Book on Immigration. [December 31, 2007. Subscription required, or see here.]

We deconstruct this egregious piece of post hoc ergo propter hocmisinformation:

WSJ: "Between 1994 and 2005, the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. is estimated to have doubled to around 12 million. Yet according the Department of Justice, over that same period the violent crime rate in the U.S. declined by 34.2% and the property crime rate fell by 26.4%, reaching their lowest levels since 1973. Crime has fallen in cities with the largest immigrant populations—such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami—as well as border cities like San Diego and El Paso, Texas." Illegal aliens are on the rise, but so are mortgage defaults, obese children, and sunspot activity. Does anyone attribute lower crime rates to those things?

Immigrant gateway cities are places where Hispanic immigrants have displaced blacks as the largest minority. One would expect, based on national victimization surveys and incarceration rates showing that blacks commit violent crimes at far higher rates than either non-Hispanic whites or Hispanics—to see crime rates fall as Hispanics move in.

And they have.

But this begs the question of Hispanic criminality per se. It's clear, based on national incarceration data [William J. Sabol, Heather Couture, and Paige M. Harrison, "Prisoners in 2006," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, December 2007. Appendix tables 7 and 8. PDF], that Hispanics are far more likely to be in prison than non-Hispanic whites.

In 2004 (latest available data) there were 290,500 Hispanic males in state or federal correctional facilities. That's an incarceration rate of 1,281 per 100,000 population.

The black incarceration rate—3,042 per 100,000—was 2.9-times the Hispanic rate and 6.9-times the white rate.

The incarceration rate for non-Hispanic white males was 487 per 100,000—far less than half the Hispanic rate.

WSJ: "It's not because law-abiding foreign professionals from India and China are compensating for criminally inclined low-skill Latinos. Immigrants from countries that comprise the bulk of our illegal alien population—including Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans—have lower incarceration rates than the native-born." Source, please? Our data, from the non-partisan GAO, shows that approximately 27 percent of prisoners in Federal custody are illegal aliens. (That's about seven-times larger than their population share.) [Information on Criminal Aliens Incarcerated in Federal and State Prisons and Local Jails, GAO, April 7, 2005(PDF)]

The majority (63 percent) of incarcerated illegals are citizens of Mexico. Other major nationalities include Colombia 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.

Only 21 percent of these illegals are in jail for immigration offenses; most are in for felonies.

WSJ: "Another popular belief is that immigrants come here to go on the dole. The data show that welfare caseloads have fallen as illegal immigration has risen. As Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin report in the December issue of Commentary magazine, 'Since the high-water mark in 1994, the national welfare caseload has declined by 60%. Virtually every state in the union has reduced its caseload by at least a third, and some have achieved reductions of over 90%'[Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News] Apparently immigrants don't drive welfare caseloads anymore than they drive the U.S. crime rate." Government surveys indicate that immigrants generally, and naturalized immigrants in particular, are more likely to receive government benefits than natives.

For example: an analysis of Census Bureau survey data found that 24.9 percent of families headed by illegal Mexican immigrants and 33.9 percent of households headed by naturalized Mexican immigrants and receive at least one major welfare program.

By contrast, only 14.9 percent of native households receive any welfare.

It's not that immigrants don't work. About 80 percent of all immigrant households receiving welfare have at least one person working. But they are the working poor—with incomes low enough to qualify for welfare.

Implication: Although immigrants may not come here for welfare, they are not shy about taking what's available to them.

WSJ: "The best way to reduce pressure on the border is by providing legal ways for people to come and work. With the Bracero guest-worker program of the 1950s, illegal entries from Mexico declined to a trickle. A similar program today could have much the same effect, while serving our homeland security and economic interests." The Bracero program was a "temporary" wartime expedient designed to fill agricultural positions with Mexican workers while Americans were fighting abroad. Good luck! The program remained in effect until December 1964, by which time more than 425,000 braceros were employed.

U.S. employers were required to pay the prevailing agricultural wage, provide free housing, and cover transportation costs. Those requirements were often ignored.

Vernon M. Briggs, Professor of Labor Economics at Cornell University's School of Labor Relations, summarizes the Bracero Program's destructiveness:

"The bracero program demonstrated precisely how alien labor policies can adversely affect citizen workers in the United States. Agricultural employment in the Southwest was virtually removed from competition with the nonagricultural sector. The availability of Mexican workers significantly depressed existing wage levels in some regions, moderated wage increases that would have occurred in their absence, and sharply compressed the duration of employment (i.e., income earning opportunities) for many citizen farmworkers."[Guestworker Programs | Lessons from the Past and Warnings for the Future,  CIS, March 2004]

Not only do immigrants commit crimes themselves, they create unemployment—and even sometimes crime—the native-born.

But don't look for that on the WSJ Editorial page anytime soon.

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

Print Friendly and PDF