The Right’s Too-Good-to-Be-True Proof That Immigration Drives Crime Just Fell Apart

The fraud behind the persistent myth of “more guns, less crime” strikes again.

New research that Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to prop up the Trump administration’s conviction that immigration feeds criminality is based on a basic data error.

The paper Sessions cited is based on the kind of mistake most real scholars take great pains to avoid, as Cato Institute immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh showed Monday. Sessions should have known better than to latch onto the findings, coming as they do from veteran data trickster John Lott — a man notorious for fudging numbers to generate ideologically convenient conclusions. Correcting for the mistake in Lott’s newest work reverses the conclusion that Sessions touted in a speech last Friday.

Lott claimed in a January paper that Arizona’s undocumented immigrant population has been far more likely to get imprisoned than the United States citizenry as a whole. “Undocumented immigrants are at least 142 percent more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans,” Lott wrote.

Sessions cited Lott’s work in a speech in Virginia just days later, saying undocumented immigrants are dramatically more prone to committing violent crimes. Where Lott had offered a somewhat restrained extrapolation from the Arizona figures to the national population, Sessions proclaimed that “tens of thousands of crimes have been committed in this country that would never have happened if our immigration laws were enforced and respected like they ought to be.”

Those are grand claims, breaking from a longstanding criminologist consensus. High-profile crimes linked by police to an undocumented person may make major anecdotal waves that shape public perception. But in study after study, the actual quantitative reality is that immigrants in general and undocumented ones in particular are less prone to criminality than the average U.S. citizen. Here was the top law enforcement officer of the United States government, telling the public he had proof that his boss was right all along when he portrayed undocumented immigrants as fiendish criminals in the speech that launched his successful campaign for the presidency.

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