Ever since President Trump began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants 'rapists' and 'criminals,' much of the debate over immigration has centered on an argument that tough immigration laws are needed to keep criminals and gang members out of the country.
But News Radio 1200 WOAI reports a new study by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute says that perception is not accurate.
Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh says while illegal immigrants do, in fact, commit crimes, they commit them at a far lower rate that native born Americans.
"We found that illegal immigrants in Texas are about half as likely to be convicted of crimes as native-born Americans," he said.
In fact, the more serious the crime, the greater disparity. Native born Americans, for example, commit murder in Texas at a far higher rate than do illegal immigrants.
The study found that in Texas, illegal immigrants were 47% less likely to be convicted of a crime than native-born Americans, and legal immigrants were 65 percent less likely to be convicted of a crime. Noweasteh says that holds for every type of crime, from major felonies to minor misdemeanors and even traffic offenses.
"I think it is surprising to a lot of people," Nowrasteh said. "illegal immigrants break immigration laws, so I think folks assume that they break other laws, but that's just not the case."
He says there is a simple explanation for the surprising disparity in crime rates between native American citizens and illegal immigrants.
"If they break a law they are arrested, and then they get deported," he said. "That is a much more serious punishment than for native born Americans, so they have much more of an incentive to keep their nose clean," he said.
In Texas in 2017, 399,155 native-born Americans were convicted of crimes, along with 16,275 illegal immigrants and 18,235 legal immigrants. That means 1,702 natives were convicted for every 100,000 natives, while 899 illegal immigrants were convicted for every 100,000 illegal immigrants in the state.
For sex crimes, the type of crime President Trump accused Mexican immigrants of committing, 31 out of every 100,000 illegal immigrants were convicted of crimes ranging from sexual assault to commercial sex in 2017, about 14% below the conviction rate for native born Americans living in Texas.