One of the key arguments advanced in favor of cracking down even harder on illegal immigration is that illegal immigrants are coming here to commit crimes. Some have even claimed that these immigrants are not people, perhaps not even worthy of the term “animal.” One narrative, which is clearly hyperbolic, contends that there is a massive wave of crime being committed by illegal immigrants. This is, of course, the myth of the criminal immigrant. As a matter of statistical fact, illegal immigrants commit crime at a rate lower than native born Americans. Illegal immigration also does not increase violent crime. As such, the argument that illegal immigration must be stopped because of the massive criminal threat they present has no logical merit. It does, however, have considerable emotional appeal—which, in the realm of politics, is far more valuable than logical merit.
Those who accept this argument will generally not be swayed by the facts: they will tend to be be suspicious of any source that denies what they feel is true, especially since these sources have been branded as biased liberals or fake news. They will also, naturally enough, feel the weight of their fear and anger—they outweigh any facts when it comes to feeling one’s way through political and ethical problems. That said, there is actually a very good argument that shows illegal immigration does increase crime in America.
It might be suspected that the easy and obvious argument is to point out that illegal immigrants are, by definition, breaking the law. As such, each illegal immigrant increases the amount of crime. The problem with this argument is that it conflates breaking a law with committing a crime. When a person is in the United States unlawfully, they are engaged in unlawful presence—which a civil infraction rather than a felony or misdemeanor. That is, it is more like a parking violation than burglary.
It could be countered that this criticism is splitting legal hairs. The obvious reply, other than the fact that law is all about hair splitting, is that this distinction does matter. The force of the argument about cracking down on illegal immigration because of the crimes they commit comes from the claim that they commit serious crimes (theft, rape, assault and murder) that harm society. The argument would have far less punch if the justification for the crackdown focused on the equivalent of parking violations.
To be fair, there are those who argue that all laws should be enforced if they are to remain on the books and to fail to do so erodes the rule of law. On this view, the crackdown on illegal immigrants would be justified even if the only law they broke was by being here unlawfully. Of course, adopting this view would require applying it consistently and demanding the strict enforcement of all laws, such as the laws against adultery in many of the states (including New York). For those who would prefer an alternative, there remains an eminently reasonable argument.
While illegal immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than native born Americans, they do commit crimes. So, if there were fewer (or no) illegal immigrants, then there would be less crime in the United States. As such, crime could be reduced by expending more resources and effort combating illegal immigrants. While it is true that reducing the number of illegal immigrants would probably reduced the amount of crime in the United States, there are some obvious concerns with this approach.
One somewhat silly reply is that this approach is analogous to proposing reducing crime by reducing the number of births. After all, if fewer people are born, then there will tend to be less crime. However, this seems to be a rather odd and ineffective way to reduce crime. Likewise for focusing on illegal immigrants—while they do commit crimes, if the goal is to reduce crime, then this goal would be better served by focusing resources directly on criminal activity. This is because the resources expended focusing on illegal immigrants would be focused on a group that commits crimes at a lower rate than native born Americans. It would be much more effective to focus on those who are committing crimes—be they Americans on illegal immigrants. As such, focusing on illegal immigration would be a poor way to reduce the criminal threat to Americans and thus that sort of argument has little merit.
Naturally, other arguments can be advanced for focusing on illegal immigration, such as the stock border control argument or economic arguments. These are, however, obviously distinct from the crime reduction argument—one that really has little or no weight.