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Illegal Immigration or Legal Immigration, What is the Diff?

I have written several articles Racism and Slavery. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on Racism and Slavery.

What Is Illegal Immigration?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in a Feb. 2011 release, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2010,” available at, stated:

“The unauthorized resident immigrant population is defined as all foreign-born non-citizens who are not legal residents. Most unauthorized residents either entered the United States without inspection or were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave.”

The Center for Media and Democracy, in a Aug. 10, 2008 article, “Illegal Immigration US,” available at, stated:

“Illegal immigration (also referred to unauthorized or undocumented immigrants) refers to the migration of people across national borders in a way that violates the immigration laws of the destined country.”

Demetrios G. Papademetriou, PhD, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), in a Sep. 1, 2005 Migration Policy Institute essay entitled “The Global Struggle with Illegal Migration: No End in Sight,” offered the following explanation:

“Illegal immigration takes several forms, four of which are the most common:

1. Undocumented/unauthorized entrants: These are nationals of one state who enter another state clandestinely. Most such entrants cross land borders, but sea routes are also employed regularly, and wherever inspection regimes are permeable, so are air routes. In all instances, the entrant manages to avoid detection and hence, inspection…

2. Individuals who are inspected upon entry into another state, but gain admission by using fraudulent documents: The fraud in question may involve the person’s identity and/or the documentation in support of admission. A variant of this class of entries involves the making of fraudulent asylum claims where issues of identity, documentation, and the narrative in support of the asylum claim may be falsified.

3. Violators of the duration of a visa: These include individuals who enter another state properly but ‘willfully’ overstay their period of legal stay, thus lapsing into irregular status.

4. Violators of the terms and conditions of a visa: Nationals of one state who enter another state with the proper documents and procedures, but at some point violate the terms of their visa. The most frequent such violation is the acceptance of employment. In a nearly institutionalized variant of such violation, language schools in some countries, such as Japan, have been notorious for admitting students who actually spend their time working. Another variant of this class of violation is when persons with special visa privileges — such as holders of ‘border crosser visas’ that allow border residents from an adjacent country to reside and be employed in the other country within strictly prescribed time and geographic parameters — systematically abuse these parameters.”

What Is Legal Immigration?, an online law and government information site, in an article, “What Is Immigration Law?,” accessed on Mar. 10, 2017, available at, stated:

“Generally speaking, people from foreign countries obtain permission to come to the United States through a visa approval process. Visas are available for two purposes. Immigrant visas are for those who want to stay in this country and become employed here. These visas are limited by country-specific quotas. Non-immigrant visas are for tourists, students, and business people who are here temporarily.

Citizens of certain developed countries deemed politically and economically stable by the U.S. government are allowed to visit for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Known as the visa waiver program, this expedited system is primarily used by people coming here on vacation. It does not allow foreign citizens to work, go to school, or apply for permanent status. The visa waiver program is currently available to citizens of 37 countries.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in a Feb. 2011 release, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2010,” available at, stated:

“The legally resident immigrant population as defined for these estimates includes all persons who were granted lawful permanent residence; granted asylee status; admitted as refugees; or admitted as nonimmigrants for a temporary stay in the United States and not required to leave by January 1, 2010. Nonimmigrant residents refer to certain aliens who were legally admitted temporarily to the United States for specified time periods such as students and temporary workers.”

The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in a section entitled “Immigration Terms and Definitions Involving Aliens” on its website (accessed Jan. 31, 2007), offered the following:

“Immigrant [is] an alien who has been granted the right by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States. Also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). All immigrants are eventually issued a ‘green card’ (USCIS Form I-551), which is the evidence of the alien’s LPR status. LPR’s who are awaiting the issuance of their green cards may bear an I-551 stamp in their foreign passports.”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), in a May 20, 2003 report entitled “Immigration and Naturalization Fundamentals,” offered the following:

“Immigrants are persons admitted as legal permanent residents (LPRs) of the United States. The conditions for the admission of immigrants are much more stringent than nonimmigrants, and many fewer immigrants than nonimmigrants are admitted. Once admitted, however, immigrants are subject to few restrictions; for example, they may accept and change employment, and may apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, generally after 5 years.

Immigration admissions are subject to a complex set of numerical limits and preference categories that give priority for admission on the basis of family relationships, needed skills, and geographic diversity. These include a flexible worldwide cap of 675,000, not including refugees and asylees (discussed below), and a per-country ceiling, which changes yearly. Numbers allocated to the three preference tracks include a 226,000 minimum for family-based, 140,000 for employment-based, and 55,000 for diversity immigrants (i.e., a formula-based visa lottery aimed at countries that have low levels of immigration to the United States). The per country ceilings may be exceeded for employment-based immigrants, but the worldwide limit of 140,000 remains in effect.

In addition, the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (i.e., their spouses and unmarried minor children, and the parents of adult U.S. citizens) are admitted outside of the numerical limits of the per country ceilings and are the ‘flexible’ component of the worldwide cap.”

“Path to citizenship” (sometimes called “amnesty”) refers to allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens via a process that may include additional requirements (such as fees, background checks, or additional waiting times) to the naturalization process for documented immigrants. The term “legalization” refers to a process by which undocumented immigrants would be allowed to remain in the country legally but would not be allowed to become citizens or receive the same rights granted to US citizens.]

Francine Kiefer, MFA, Staff writer and Congressional Correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, in a Jan. 21, 2014 article, “Immigration Reform 101: How Is ‘Legal Status’ Different from Citizenship?,” available on the Christian Science Monitor website, stated:

“Gaining legal status would likely mean three things for people now living in the US illegally… First, they would no longer be subject to deportation solely because they’re in the country illegally, as long as they are law abiding in other ways. Second, they would be authorized to work. Third, they would have the ability to travel in and out of the United States. At least 60 percent of the illegal population has been in the US for more than 10 years… and are unable to return to their home countries to visit family or for other reasons…

[A] path to citizenship for illegal immigrants… [means that as] naturalized citizens, they would be eligible to receive government benefits, such as unemployment insurance and Social Security. They could vote. And they would be eligible for special immigration privileges, such as being able to bring family members into the country. If they commit a crime, they can’t be deported.

These privileges of citizenship would not apply to people with legal status.”

Jan. 21, 2014 – Francine Kiefer, MFA

How Are Illegal Immigration and Globalization Related?

Katharine M. Donato, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, and Douglas S. Massey, PhD, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, in the abstract for their June 14, 2016 article, “Twenty-First-Century Globalization and Illegal Migration,” published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, stated:

“[I]llegal migration emerged as a structural feature of the second era of capitalist globalization, which emerged in the late twentieth century and was characterized by international market integration. Unlike the first era of capitalist globalization (1800 to 1929), the second era sees countries limiting and controlling international migration and creating a global economy in which all markets are globalized except for labor and human capital, giving rise to the relatively new phenomenon of illegal migration. Yet despite rampant inequalities in wealth and income between nations, only 3.1 percent of all people lived outside their country of birth in 2010. We expect this to change: threat evasion is replacing opportunity seeking as a motivation for international migration because of climate change and rising levels of civil violence in the world’s poorer nations. The potential for illegal migration is thus greater now than in the past, and more nations will be forced to grapple with growing populations in liminal legal statuses.”

Aviva Chomsky, PhD, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University, in a Sep. 24, 2016 interview with Keera Annamaneni, “An Interview with Aviva Chomsky, Professor and Immigration Activist,” available at, stated:

“When we’re talking about globalization, one of the things we’re precisely talking about is the ability of companies to move wherever they want to get the absolute cheapest conditions. It’s called a raised bottom, and it’s putting countries in competition with each other to lower working conditions, to lower wages, and to offer perks to companies to try to attract them there.

Along with the Border Industrialization Act, we have NAFTA, which has had devastating effects for not just United States workers, but in particular, for poor rural Mexican corn farmers because heavily subsidized, mechanized agro-industries can produce corn more cheaply than Mexican workers who have been surviving on corn for thousands of years. So their system worked before but now is being flooded by corn from the United States market, while as a result of NAFTA, government protections for poor farmers are being undermined, so many of the Mexicans who have been crossing the border in the last couple of decades have been called by one historian ‘refugees of NAFTA.’ They are people who have been forced by government policies into this migrant strain. I would say that kind of globalization, which is called neoliberal globalization, works to the detriment of poor people everywhere and to the benefit of investors and corporations.”

Paul A. Harris, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Administration, International Studies and Philosophy at Augusta State University, wrote in his Oct. 2002 Southeastern Conference for Public Administration paper “Immigration, Globalization and National Security: An Emerging Challenge to the Modern Administrative State”:

“Globalization has been the defining feature of the late twentieth-century, exemplified by sharply increased trade in goods, inter-connected financial markets and large-scale international migration. Globalization is defined by cross-border connectivity, including porous borders, which serve to expedite flows of goods while at the same time increase the level of immigration – both legal and illegal.”

Demetrios Papademetriou, PhD, Director of the Migration Policy Institute, wrote in his Sep. 2005 Migration Policy Institute essay “The Global Struggle with Illegal Migration: No End in Sight”:

“For nearly two decades now, capital and the market for goods, services, and workers of many types have weaved an ever more intricate web of global economic and social interdependence… No aspect of this interdependence seems to be more visible to the publics of advanced industrial societies than the movement of people. And no part of that movement is proving pricklier to manage effectively, or more difficult for publics to come to terms with, than irregular (also known as unauthorized, undocumented, or illegal) migration…

Most international mobility — regardless of legal status, whether permanent, temporary, or circular, and whether for work or to join families — also preoccupies the less developed countries, albeit from different perspectives. For them, movement is an essential lifeline to both their citizens and their economies because of remittances [goods or currency sent back to country of origin], now probably approaching $150 billion per year.”

Victor Davis Hanson, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote in his May 31, 2007 article “The Global Immigration Problem”:

“Thousands of aliens crossing our 2,000-mile border from an impoverished Mexico reflect a much larger global one-way traffic problem. In Germany, Turkish workers – both legal and illegal – are desperate to find either permanent residence or citizenship. ‘Londonstan’ is slang for a new London of thousands of unassimilated Pakistani nationals. In France, there were riots in 2005 because many children of North African immigrants are unemployed – and unhappy. Albanians flock to Greece to do farm work, and then are regularly deported for doing so illegally.

The list could go on. So why do millions of these border-crossers head to Europe, the United States or elsewhere in the West? Easy. Stable democracies and free markets ensure economic growth, rising standards of living and, thus, lots of jobs, while these countries’ birth rates and native populations fall. In contrast, immigrants usually flee mostly failed states that cannot offer their people any real hope of prosperity and security.”

Jesus Nebot, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and speaker, wrote in an Aug. 14, 2011 email to

“The massive influx of migrants in the past several decades, particularly from Mexico and Central America, cannot be traced to a single cause. However, economic globalization policies supported by the U.S. government are significant factors. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) almost certainly contributed to the sharp increase in the number of Mexicans living in the U.S. without authorization, from 2 million in 1990 to an estimated 6.2 million in 2005.

With barriers to agricultural imports lifted, Mexican farmers have found themselves competing with an influx of cheap, heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural commodities. Facing dire poverty in the Mexican countryside, millions have made the wrenching decision to leave behind families and communities and head northward.

Throughout the developing world, farmers are particularly vulnerable to import competition because of World Bank- and IMF- cuts to support for small-scale agriculture.

Additionally most developing-country governments are pressured by international financial institutions to slash spending for social and environmental protections, look the other way when foreign investors damage the environment, and devote scarce resources to pay interest on external debts.

If we fail to recognize the connections between migration and globalization, our policies will provide a temporary Band-Aid solution at best.”

Do Immigrants Threaten US Public Safety?

1. Introduction

The relationship between immigration and crime is a hot topic right now, but it is not a new one. During the peak of US immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a perception that the two activities were related (Moehling and Piehl 2009, 2014). In fact, a common claim in congressional debates was that foreign countries actively encouraged convicts to emigrate to the US (Moehling and Piehl 2007). Immigration was also sometimes seen as underlying the rise of certain criminal institutions in the US, such as the mafia. The characterization of the US-Mexico border as a lawless place rife with crime and illicit activity dates back more than a hundred years, as does the debate over whether immigration exacerbates crime and other social ills (Moehling and Piehl 2009, 2014).

Charges that immigrants, particularly unauthorized ones, endanger public safety have resurfaced in recent years and played a central role in the 2016 presidential election and in the government shutdown of early 2019. Immigration policies, most notably President Donald Trump’s call to “build the wall,” are being proposed and, in some cases, implemented partly on the basis of claims that immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate share of crimes and that devoting more resources to immigration enforcement would reduce illegal immigration and crime. Increased border and interior enforcement, crackdowns on sanctuary cities, and the reinstatement of Secure Communities are examples of policies proposed or implemented in the name of decreasing illegal immigration and bolstering public safety.

Such claims are contrary to the large body of research that shows that immigrants are less likely than US natives to commit crimes and that areas with more immigrants—including unauthorized ones—tend to have lower crime rates than areas with fewer immigrants. Further, there is little credible evidence that unauthorized immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than US natives. While there is a growing consensus that the massive increase in border enforcement over the last two decades has reduced the inflow of unauthorized immigrants, there is no clear evidence that it has led to a drop in crime rates. Research suggests that the relationship between immigration enforcement, either along the border or in the interior, and crime rates is complicated. Tougher immigration enforcement can even lead to increases in crime by reducing economic opportunities for immigrants, particularly unauthorized immigrants.

This article provides an overview of the research on immigration, enforcement, and crime. As some politicians justify calls for tougher immigration enforcement by claiming it will improve public safety, it is vital for policy makers and the public to understand whether immigration in fact boosts crime and whether enforcement reduces the number of unauthorized immigrants and thereby reduces crime rates. The article begins with a summary of the research on immigration and crime. It then turns to the research on whether increased border enforcement reduces unauthorized immigration and crime. It next explores several other policies related to immigration and crime and concludes with a discussion about the likely effects of recent policy initiatives and about areas for further research.

2. Evidence on Immigration and Crime

Standard economic theory predicts that criminal behavior is related to opportunity costs. Becker (1968) first formalized the idea that potential criminals consider the expected costs and benefits of committing crimes before they engage in criminal behavior. The greater the expected costs are in terms of forgone labor market opportunities (employment and earnings) and harsher punishment, the less likely they are to commit crimes.

Applied to immigrants in the US, this theory gives countervailing predictions. On the one hand, immigrants may be more likely to commit crimes because they typically have lower earnings than similar US natives. And since immigrants tend to be younger and disproportionately male—characteristics associated with criminal behavior—they may be more likely to commit crimes than the average US native. On the other hand, some immigrants who commit crimes face much stiffer punishments than US natives if they are caught. In addition to imprisonment, noncitizen immigrants can be deported if they are convicted of a serious crime, barred from reentering the US, or deemed ineligible to become naturalized citizens. This heightened deterrence effect predicts that immigrants are less likely than US natives to commit crimes.

The empirical evidence comes down decidedly on the side of immigrants being less likely to commit crimes. A large body of empirical research concludes that immigrants are less likely than similar US natives to commit crimes, and the incarceration rate is lower among the foreign-born than among the native-born (see, for example, Butcher and Piehl 1998a, 1998b, 2007; Hagan and Palloni 1999; Rumbaut et al. 2006). Among men ages 18 to 39—prime ages for engaging in criminal behavior—the incarceration rate among immigrants is one-fourth the rate among US natives (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2015).

There are several potential reasons why immigrants are less likely than similar US natives to commit crimes despite their worse labor market prospects. First, the difference in the deterrence effect outlined above may dominate the difference in economic opportunities. Since noncitizens potentially face deportation, they should be more responsive than US citizens to crime-deterrence policies, such as increased police presence. Immigrants also may be subject to more scrutiny by law enforcement officers. But other channels besides deterrence may contribute to immigrants’ relatively low propensity to commit crimes. Immigrants may be positively selected from the population in their origin countries: people who are more likely to commit crimes may be less likely to become international migrants (Butcher and Piehl 1998a, 2007). Relatedly, US immigration policy may screen out some migrants who would commit crimes. Immigrants may be more likely to have close family and community ties, which tend to reduce the propensity to commit crimes (Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush 2005; Ousey and Kubrin 2009).

There is some evidence that the lower propensity of immigrants to commit crimes does not carry over to immigrants’ children. The US-born children of immigrants—often called the “second generation”— appear to engage in criminal behavior at rates similar to other US natives (Bersani 2014a, 2014b). This “downward assimilation” may be surprising, since the second generation tends to considerably outperform their immigrant parents in terms of education and labor-market outcomes and therefore might be expected to have even lower rates of criminal behavior (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2015). Instead, immigrants’ children are much like their peers in terms of criminal behavior. This evidence mirrors findings that the immigrant advantage over US natives in terms of health tends to not carry over to the second generation (e.g., Acevedo-Garcia et al. 2010).

Although immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than similar US natives, they are disproportionately male and relatively young—characteristics associated with crime. Does this difference in demographic composition mean that the average immigrant is more likely than the average US native to commit crimes? Studies comparing immigrants’ and US natives’ criminal behavior and incarceration rates tend to focus on relatively young men, leaving the broader question unanswered. However, indirect evidence is available from looking at the relationship between immigration and crime rates. If the average immigrant is more likely than the average US native to commit crimes, areas with more immigrants should have higher crime rates than areas with fewer immigrants.

The evidence here is clear: crime rates are no higher, and are perhaps lower, in areas with more immigrants. An extensive body of research examines how changes in the foreign-born share of the population affect changes in crime rates. Focusing on changes allows researchers to control for unobservable differences across areas. The finding of either a null relationship or a small negative relationship holds in raw comparisons, in studies that control for other variables that could underlie the results from raw comparisons, and in studies that use instrumental variables to identify immigrant inflows that are independent of factors that also affect crime rates, such as underlying economic conditions (see, for example, Butcher and Piehl 1998b; Lee, Martinez, and Rosenfeld 2001; Reid et al. 2005; Graif and Sampson 2009; Ousey and Kubrin 2009; Stowell et al. 2009; Wadsworth 2010; MacDonald, Hipp, and Gill 2013; Adelman et al. 2017). The lack of a positive relationship is generally robust to using different measures of immigration, looking at different types of crimes, and examining different geographic levels. Further, the lack of a positive relationship suggests that immigration does not cause US natives to commit more crimes. This might occur if immigration worsens natives’ labor market opportunities, for example.

The few studies that examine crime among unauthorized immigrants have findings that are consistent with the broader pattern among immigrants—namely, unauthorized immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than similar US natives (apart from immigration-related offenses). Likewise, studies that examine the link between the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants as a share of an area’s population and crime rates in that area typically find evidence of null or negative effects.

While the small literature on the topic generally does not indicate that unauthorized immigration increases crime, the evidence does suggest that legal status matters. Areas in which more immigrants received legal status via the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) legalization program experienced larger reductions in their overall crime rate, driven by lower property crime rates (Baker 2015). Improved labor market opportunities among newly legalized immigrants led to the number of crimes falling by 3 to 5 percent. A study of one Texas county finds that alleged criminal behavior increased after IRCA among Hispanics living in neighborhoods composed largely of recent Mexican immigrants (Freedman, Owens, and Bohn 2018). The increase was concentrated in drug felonies and was presumably due to worse labor market opportunities for unauthorized immigrants since IRCA made it illegal to hire unauthorized immigrants.

Enabling more immigrants to adjust from unauthorized to legal status can reduce crime rates by increasing immigrants’ access to better jobs that pay higher wages. In contrast, making it harder for immigrants to work can lead to higher crime rates. Current policy makes adjusting to legal status difficult for most unauthorized immigrants, particularly those who entered the US illegally. Worksite enforcement policies, such as state laws requiring employers to use E-Verify to check that new hires are eligible to work in the US, make it harder for unauthorized immigrants to work. This worsens their labor market prospects and hence raises the net benefit of committing crime. We further discuss the effects on crime of these and other immigration policies below.

3. Effects of Border Enforcement on Immigration and Crime

Given the current focus on unauthorized immigration, border enforcement, and crime, it is important to understand whether border enforcement deters unauthorized immigrants and thereby reduces crime. US border enforcement has increased considerably over the past three decades. The ramp-up in border enforcement encompasses everything from personnel to fencing to motion detector cameras and aerial surveillance. The probability of apprehension along the border is estimated to have risen from 40 percent in 2000 to 55 percent by 2015 (Alden 2017). Penalties for illegal crossings have also increased, as has the ease with which penalties are meted out.

Recent years have seen a substantial decrease in the inflow of undocumented migrants concomitant with the increase in border enforcement. Indeed, the 304,000-some migrants apprehended along the USMexico border in fiscal year 2017 represent the lowest apprehension level since 1971. The best analysis available to date estimates that increased enforcement explains approximately one-third of the recent reduction in the inflow of undocumented migrants, and economic factors explain the remainder (Roberts, Alden, and Whitley 2013; Roberts 2017). The main way in which border enforcement deters crossings is by increasing the need to hire a smuggler and the cost of doing so.

Some researchers have pointed out that a perverse short-run effect of increasing border enforcement was a rise in the unauthorized immigrant population as circular migration declined (see, for example, Massey, Durand, and Pren 2016; Roberts 2017). Many migrants who used to periodically return home instead settled in the US and were joined by their families. As a result, the size of the unauthorized immigrant population living in the US continued to rise for at least a decade after the ramp-up in border enforcement began in earnest. However, the size of the unauthorized immigrant population has been stable or slightly smaller since the onset of the 2007–2009 recession. Estimates from the Pew Research Center indicate that the unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 and was about 10.7 million in 2016 (Passel and Cohn 2018). Tougher border enforcement, combined with increased interior enforcement, appears to be working in terms of reducing unauthorized immigrant inflows and ultimately the size of the unauthorized immigrant population.

But does this increase in border enforcement and resultant drop in unauthorized immigration result in less crime? The limited evidence available is mixed. A study of areas along the US-Mexico border finds that increases in apprehensions made by the US Border Patrol are positively related to violent crime rates but are not significantly related to property crime rates (Coronado and Orrenius 2007). Border Patrol linewatch hours—a measure of enforcement intensity—in a given border sector are not significantly related to violent crime rates in that sector, but linewatch hours in neighboring sectors are positively related to violent crime rates in a given sector (Coronado and Orrenius 2007). Increased enforcement in an area deflects some unauthorized immigrant inflows to other areas, apparently boosting violent crime in those areas. The increase in violent crime is likely related to migrants’ growing reliance on smugglers as border enforcement increases and to a concomitant rise in drug smuggling along the border.

4. Effects of Other Immigration Policies

Over the last two decades, the role of the criminal justice system in immigration has expanded considerably. In fact, the word “crimmigration” was coined to describe the intersection of criminal law and immigration law as the scope and importance of this nexus grew. The increased involvement of the criminal justice system in immigration began in earnest with two 1996 laws, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, that laid the groundwork for many of the policies in place today. Among other provisions, those laws expanded the list of crimes for which immigrants could be deported and have their legal permanent resident status revoked. The IIRIRA also authorized the federal government to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law. The resulting variation in policies over time and across areas, including the refusal of “sanctuary” jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agencies, has enabled researchers to examine the effects of these policies on crime rates. As discussed below, the evidence tends to indicate that the increased involvement of state and local law enforcement in immigration enforcement has not led to lower crime rates

4.1 Federal Partnerships with State and Local Law Enforcement

There are three major programs in effect in the interior of the country that aim to identify and remove immigrants who pose a threat to public safety: the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), Secure Communities, and 287(g). As explained by Coon (2017), CAP involves identifying deportable immigrants— immigrants who are not US citizens and who are incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons—and deporting them before they are released back into the community. Secure Communities enables law enforcement officers to compare biometric data to a Department of Homeland Security database when arrestees are booked into local jails. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is notified when a potentially deportable immigrant is arrested and then begins an investigation and, if applicable, handles the deportation process.

ICE began rolling out Secure Communities in 2008, and the program was in place nationwide in 2013. The 287(g) program—named after the corresponding section of the Immigration and Nationality Act as amended by the 1996 IIRIRA—allows state and local law enforcement agencies to sign an agreement with ICE that delegates authority for immigration enforcement to these agencies. State and local law enforcement officers in participating jurisdictions can interview arrestees to ascertain their immigration status and potentially refer them to ICE for deportation. Under CAP, Secure Communities, and 287(g), immigrants must be incarcerated or arrested for some other crime before their immigration status is investigated.

Although deporting immigrants who commit violent crimes should increase public safety, the evidence suggests that these programs have had little effect. For example, studies that examine areas before and after they began participating in Secure Communities fail to find a significant increase in public safety as measured by crime and arrest rates (Miles and Cox 2014; Treyger, Chalfin, and Loeffler 2014). This is not surprising since relatively few of the immigrants deported via these programs pose a threat to public safety. Indeed, the vast majority—85 percent—of ICE removals under Secure Communities were for immigration offenses, including illegal entry, illegal reentry, and unlawful presence. One study found that only 3 percent of the 2.6 million immigrants ICE dealt with via CAP during 2010 to 2013 had been convicted of a violent or serious crime (Cantor, Noferi, and Martínez 2015). The vast majority had been convicted of a nonserious or nonviolent offense. About one-half of immigrants detained under the 287(g) program had committed only a misdemeanor or a traffic violation (Capps et al. 2011). Further, these programs may actually decrease public safety in some immigrant-intensive areas by making immigrants less willing to come into contact with law enforcement (Kirk et al. 2012; Theodore and Habans 2016). When immigrants are unwilling to report crimes or testify against offenders for fear of being deported, they become easier targets for criminals. More crimes may occur but a smaller share of them may be reported or successfully prosecuted, resulting in no change in official crime rates measured on a per capita basis but a decrease in actual public safety.

In part because of concerns about racial profiling and the limited effectiveness of the Secure Communities and 287(g) programs, the Obama administration scaled them back.14 Secure Communities was discontinued in 2014 and replaced with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). PEP limited ICE to pursuing deportation only for immigrants who posed a demonstrable risk to national security or had been charged with or convicted of a particular set of crimes, including criminal gang activity. PEP also limited the scope of the 287(g) program. The Trump administration promptly reversed course. In January 2017, it issued executive orders terminating the Priority Enforcement Program, reinstating Secure Communities, and expanding the 287(g) program.

4.2 Sanctuary Jurisdictions

Some parts of the United States responded to the increase in interior enforcement exemplified by the 287(g) program and Secure Communities by adopting laws or ordinances that prohibit state or local government resources from being used to enforce federal immigration laws. The rationale for such laws has been to preserve trust in the police and encourage the reporting of crimes; to avoid the costs of complying with federal requests to detain suspects for longer; and to prevent the adverse impact on families and communities of deporting low-priority immigrants, often household heads with jobs and dependents. Critics, on the other hand, allege that these “sanctuary” policies protect immigrants who commit crimes and lead to an increase in criminal activity. However, studies show that crime rates are the same or lower in sanctuary jurisdictions compared with otherwise-similar jurisdictions, or before and after a given area enacted a sanctuary policy (Gonzalez, Collingwood, and El-Khatib 2017; Martínez-Schuldt and Martínez 2017; Wong 2017). In addition, the negative relationship between the immigrant population share and crime rates discussed above is stronger in sanctuary cities (Lyons, Vélez, and Santoro 2013; Martínez-Schuldt and Martínez 2017). Nevertheless, the Trump administration issued an executive order in January 2017 making areas that refused to comply with federal immigration enforcement policies ineligible for federal grants related to law enforcement.

5. Discussion and Conclusion

US immigration policy aims to achieve a large set of goals: enable families to reunite, provide sanctuary to people fleeing persecution abroad, support economic growth by allowing firms to hire foreign workers, and advance US geopolitical interests. Immigration policy also aims to protect public safety and national security by barring and removing migrants who appear to pose a credible threat.

The use of immigration policy as a tool for protecting public safety and national security has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Some of these changes make sense. For example, 9/11 and other terrorist incidents demonstrated the need for more thorough screening of applicants for temporary and permanent visas and for more coordination among federal agencies and between US agencies and foreign governments. The tremendous growth in the unauthorized immigrant population during the 1990s through 2007 indicated the need to further increase immigration enforcement along the US-Mexico border. The subsequent increase in enforcement appears to have succeeded in dramatically reducing inflows of unauthorized immigrants, and the unauthorized immigrant population has been stable or falling for more than a decade. On the other hand, devoting more resources to building a wall or to removing large numbers of immigrants who have committed only a misdemeanor means fewer resources are available for other enforcement activities that might have a greater impact on public safety. Meanwhile, discussion of a legalization program has largely disappeared from the public agenda, but the evidence suggests that implementing a large-scale legalization program would lead to lower crime rates by improving migrants’ economic opportunities.

Several recent immigration policy initiatives by the Trump administration are unlikely to increase public safety and may even prove counterproductive. The evidence on Secure Communities indicates that the program did not lead to lower crime rates, yet the program has been resurrected in the name of reducing crime. The evidence on sanctuary cities indicates they do not have higher crime rates than other, similar areas, but the administration has proposed penalizing sanctuary jurisdictions. The best outcome would be for federal, state, and local governments to work together to craft enforcement policies that prioritize apprehending, incarcerating, and, if applicable, deporting serious criminals.

Other proposed or implemented policy changes that would affect unauthorized immigrants’ economic opportunities include ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and ending the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to migrants from several countries. These programs have granted temporary legal status to over one million qualified migrants who would otherwise be unauthorized, enabling them to work legally and improving their economic opportunities and living standards. Participants lose their protected status if they are convicted of a serious crime, so the programs also have a deterrence component. There is no evidence about whether programs like DACA and TPS reduce crime, but their establishment and potential elimination creates variation that researchers should use to assess their effects on crime rates.

A crucial fact seems to have been forgotten by some policy makers as they have ramped up immigration enforcement over the last two decades: immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than similar US natives. This is not to say that immigrants never commit crimes. But the evidence is clear that they are not more likely to do so than US natives. The comprehensive 2015 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on immigration integration concludes that the finding that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than US natives “seems to apply to all racial and ethnic groups of immigrants, as well as applying over different decades and across varying historical contexts” . Unauthorized immigrants may be slightly more likely than legal immigrants to commit crimes, but they are still less likely than their US-born peers to do so. Further, areas with more immigrants tend to have lower rates of violent and property crimes. In the face of such evidence, policies aimed at reducing the number of immigrants, including unauthorized immigrants, seem unlikely to reduce crime and increase public safety.


This posting is serving as a discussion on other aspects of Immigration that were not covered by previous article “Illegal Immigrants in America, What Will Be Their Fate?” During the Trump administration immigration was on the back burner, because he aggressively addressed the problem, by strengthening our borders and stopping the policy of catch and release. He also worked with Mexico to deal with the issues of border security. All this came to an end when Biden opened up the borders, and stopped the construction of the border wall. He also stated that he was going to make citizens of all illegal aliens. Now we have thousands of aliens swarming our southern borders. Only time will tell on what impact these changes will have on our country. I know that Biden is trying to increase the number of Democrats in the country and in key states, so that Republicans will not stand a chance in future elections.

One point I want to make. I had always questioned why we have so many unsupervised minors crossing the border. One answer I have been hearing is that the parents were hoping that their children would have a brighter future in America, even if they were accompanied by their parents and relatives. So in effect the parents were being selfless. I don’t know if I could do that if I had children. Another answer has come to light, is that the drug cartels are using these children to overwhelm the border responses and thereby allowing them to transport their drugs across unfettered. Knowing what I know of human nature, this seems to be a more logical explanation.

Resources, “Should the Government Allow Immigrants Who Are Here Illegally to Become US Citizens?”;, “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act,”, ” 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.” BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTADJEFFREY S. PASSEL AND D’VERA COHN;, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Illegal Immigration (But Didn’t Know Who to Ask),” By Jeff Salamon;, ” Do Immigrants Threaten US Public Safety?” By Madeline Zavodny, Pia Orrenius;


Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) strengthened U.S. immigration laws, adding penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes while in the United States or who stay in the U.S. for statutorily defined periods of time. 

The Act was designed to improve border control by imposing criminal penalties for racketeering, alien smuggling and the use or creation of fraudulent immigration-related documents and increasing interior enforcement by agencies charged with monitoring visa applications and visa abusers. The Act also allows for the deportation of undocumented immigrants who commit a misdemeanor or a felony.

The Act mandates that immigrants who are unlawfully present in the U.S. for 180 days but under 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless pardoned. If they remain in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for ten years unless they obtain a waiver. However, if they return to the U.S. without the pardon, they must wait 10 years until they may apply for a waiver.

5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.

The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States has dropped to the level it was in 2004, and Mexicans are no longer a majority of this population. This decline is due mainly to a large drop in the number of new unauthorized immigrants, especially Mexicans, coming into the country. The origin countries of unauthorized immigrants also shifted during that time, with the number from Mexico declining and the number rising from Central America and Asia, according to the latest Pew Research Center estimates.

Here are five facts about the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S.

1There were 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2017, representing 3.2% of the total U.S. population that year. The 2017 unauthorized immigrant total is a 14% drop from the peak of 12.2 million in 2007, when this group was 4% of the U.S. population.

2The number of Mexican unauthorized immigrants declined since 2007, while the total from other nations ticked up. Mexicans made up less than half of all unauthorized U.S. immigrants (47%) in 2017 for the first time, according to the Center’s estimate, compared with 57% in 2007. Their numbers (and share of the total) have been declining in recent years: There were 4.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2017, down from 6.9 million in 2007.

Meanwhile, the total from other nations, 5.5 million in 2017, ticked up from 2007, when it was 5.3 million. The number of unauthorized immigrants has grown since 2007 from both Central America and Asia. There were 1.5 million Central American unauthorized immigrants in 2007 and 1.9 million in 2017. This growth was fueled mainly by immigrants from the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The number from Asia, 1.3 million in 2007, rose to 1.5 million in 2017.

At the same time, the number of unauthorized immigrants from South America and Europe decreased between 2007 and 2017. Other large regions (the Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world) did not change significantly during that time.

3The U.S. civilian workforce includes 7.6 million unauthorized immigrants, representing a decline since 2007. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of unauthorized immigrant workers fell by 625,000, as did their share of the total U.S. workforce over the same period. In 2017, this group accounted for 4.6% of those in the U.S. who were working or were unemployed and looking for work.

4Six states account for 57% of unauthorized immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. From 2007 to 2017, individual states experienced different trends. The unauthorized immigrant population decreased in a dozen states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon. In five states, the unauthorized immigrant population rose over the same period: Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota and South Dakota.