ISSUE BRIEF | UPDATED AUGUST 2015
The criminal alien problem is growing.
Criminal aliens — non-citizens who commit crimes — are a growing threat to public safety and national security, as well as a drain on our scarce criminal justice resources. In 1980, our federal and state prisons housed fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens.1 Today, about 55,000 criminal aliens account for more than one-fourth of prisoners in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, and there are about 297,000 criminal aliens incarcerated in state and local prisons. That number represents about 16.4 percent of the state and local prison population compared to the 12.9 percent of the total population comprised of foreign-born residents.2
illegal immigration is not a victimless crime.
Watch these moving Congressional testimonies given by Americans whose lives were forever changed by criminal aliens.
Administering justice to criminal aliens costs the taxpayer dearly.
The estimated cost of incarcerating these criminal aliens at the federal level is estimated at $1.5 to $1.6 billion per year.3 That cost includes expenses in the federal prison system and the amount of money paid to state and local detention facilities in the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). It does not include the costs of incarceration at the state and local level, nor does it include the related local costs of policing and the judicial system related to law enforcement against criminal aliens.
Our fiscal cost study in 2010, estimated administration of justice costs at the federal level related to criminal aliens at $7.8 billion annually. The comparable cost to state and local governments was $8.7 billion.4
Many criminal aliens are released into our society to commit crimes again.
A Congressional Research Service report released in August 2012 found that over a 33-month period, between October 2008 and July 2011, more than 159,000 illegal aliens were arrested by local authorities and identified by the federal government as deportable but nevertheless released back onto the streets. Nearly one-sixth of those same individuals were subsequently again arrested for crimes.5 See: Examples of Serious Crimes of Illegal Aliens
Some states bear a disproportionate share.
Using data collected in the SCAAP system for 2009, an average share of 5.4 percent of the prisoners in state and local prisons were criminal aliens. The share was more than double that average in California (12.7%) and Arizona (11.7%). Another seven states also had criminal alien shares higher than the national average. They were: Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New York, New Jersey, and Texas.
The shares of the incarcerated population comprised of criminal aliens are generally higher than the shares of the estimated illegal alien population in the state. For example, the estimated 2,365,000 illegal aliens in California represent 7.1 percent of the state's overall population compared to the 12.7 percent criminal alien population. Nationally, the estimated 11,920,000 illegal aliens in 2010 represented 3.9 percent of the overall population compared to the 5.4 percent criminal alien incarceration rate. This difference in shares demonstrates that the share of aliens in prison for various crimes is disproportionately large. The share of aliens in federal prisons is higher than in state and local prisons because federal prisons house aliens convicted of federal immigration offenses such as alien smuggling in addition to other crimes.
Ten states that accounted for 41 percent of the nation's total population in 2010 accounted for 63 percent of the nation's total population (see table below) Of those same states, all but Texas also have a share of the prison population that is larger than the estimated share of their illegal alien population.
shares of illegal alien and prison populations
|Population||Illegals (est.)||% of
What can be done?
- We must secure our borders. Denying jobs to illegal aliens through a centralized secure identity verification system is important to that effort.
- We must assure that the criminal conviction of an alien leads to deportation and permanent exclusion from the United States.
- Asylum applicants should be screened expeditiously and excluded if their claims are not credible. Even if they appear to have credible claims, they should be detained until background checks are done.
- Other corrective measures include greater federal and local government cooperation to identify criminal aliens. The expansion of the Secure Communities program is useful in that regard, but it is no substitute for the 287(g) program that trains and deputizes local law enforcement personnel in immigration law enforcement.
- Other aliens not included in this total include immigrants who have become U.S. citizens (not included in the federal prison data), aliens being held for trial and some awaiting deportation but not convicted in the United States, e.g., the Cuban Marielitos.
- "Criminal Alien Statistics: Information on Incarcerations, Arrests, and Costs," Government Accountability Office, March 24, 2011.
- Martin, Jack and Erick A. Ruark, "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers," FAIR, July 2010.
- "Arrested illegals who were released charged with 16,226 subsequent crimes," Daily Caller, Aug 9, 2012.