2015 American Community Survey: Immigrants Less Likely to be Housed in Adult Corrections Facilities

Every September, the U.S. Census Bureau releases data regarding the U.S. population from its annual American Community Survey. The American Factfinder website very handily archives this data and makes it available through guided or customized search.

I particularly encourage you to visit American Factfinder and search for a table titled “CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GROUP QUARTERS POPULATION BY GROUP QUARTERS TYPE.” That table sounds dry and uninteresting, but it contains a nugget of gold for any voter who wants to fact-check claims being made lately about immigrants.  In press releases and in speeches this year, political officeholders and candidates have asserted that immigrants to the United States are dangerous and liable to commit crimes.  Of course, it is possible to find tragic stories of crimes committed by immigrants to the United States, just as it is possible to find tragic stories of crimes committed by people born in the United States.  But individual stories are not a good basis for policy. Claims about immigrants as a source of crime are strong in their accusation and as such need to be evaluated on the basis of systematic evidence.

To cut to the chase, data from this table reveal that immigrants make up a lower share of people held in adult corrections facilities in the United States than their share of the U.S. population.  “Native born” Americans — those born in the United States — made up 86.5% of the U.S. population in the 2015, but made up 91.9% of those housed in adult correctional facilities in the United States in 2015.  The “foreign born” immigrants to the United States made up 13.5% of the U.S. population in 2015, but made up only 8.1% of those housed in adult correctional facilities in the U.S. in 2015:

2015 American Community Survey Table: U.S. Immigrants are Less Likely to be in Adult Corrections Facilities than those born in the U.S.A.

This data does not appear to be consistent with the claim that foreigners coming to the United States to live are a unique and concentrated source of crime.  Trends for 2015 match findings for previous years compiled for the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Those who wish to pursue policies against immigrants on the basis that doing so would cut crime rates in the United States need to explain how their assertions match these observations.

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