CLAIM: Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who come from Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador are “twice as likely” to commit crime than U.S.-born citizens.
THE FACTS: Research shows that immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission actually commit crimes at lower rates in comparison to citizens born in the country. A video from 2018 featuring two prominent conservative activists making claims about immigrants coming into the U.S., including the claim about crime, has resurfaced and is circulating widely on social media.
In the clip, Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, and Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, are speaking to a live audience about immigration and calling for a border wall. But experts say many of the claims they make to support their argument are false or misleading.
The video, shared on Facebook on Sunday, has since been viewed over 2 million times. It was originally recorded at an event at Stanford University in 2018 where both Kirk and Owens spoke. Among the claims was the assertion that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from specific countries are more likely to commit crime than citizens born in the U.S. But experts say no evidence supports the notion.
“It is false. Very false and troubling,” said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. “There is a lot of empirical evidence that goes in the other direction.”
“Almost every reputable report that I have seen has found that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native born U.S. citizens,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell University who teaches immigration law. Yale-Loehr cited a 2020 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal.
The study used data from the Texas Department of Public Safety and found that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally have “substantially lower crime rates than native-born citizens and legal immigrants across a range of felony offenses.”
When asked to provide evidence for Kirk’s claim, Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for Turning Point USA, pointed to a 2018 news story about a report from the Crime Prevention Research Center, a conservative nonprofit, which found that immigrants between the ages of 15 and 35 who were living in the U.S. illegally accounted for almost 8% of Arizona’s prison population, despite being around 2% of the state’s population.
The report also concluded that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are significantly more likely to be convicted of crime than “other Arizonans.”
Gilman noted that the paper was not peer-reviewed and that the author failed to account for prosecutors’ potential bias against immigrants.
“It may well be that migrants do not commit more crimes but are instead prosecuted at higher rates,” Gilman wrote.
“The whole methodology is very questionable and the basic explanation of the method is not sound,” Ingrid Eagly, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in an email to the AP. Ernesto Castañeda, director of the Immigration Lab at American University, wrote in an email that the finding that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are overrepresented in Arizona’s prisons “does not mean they were committing more or worse crime.”
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.