Editorial: Feds’ deportation program may not reduce crime

09/04/2014 5:45 PM

09/04/2014 5:47 PM

Deporting noncitizens with criminal records is a critical part of Gov. Rick Perry’s strategy to market his border security plan.

In making the case for National Guard troops in the Rio Grande Valley, he cited a Texas Department of Public Safety statistic that “criminal aliens” have been charged with 642,000 crimes in Texas.

That number has endured its share of scrutiny.

And a new review of the federal program that targets convicted criminals for deportation suggests that it warrants still another look.

Professors Adam B. Cox of New York University’s School of Law and Thomas J. Miles, of the University of Chicago Law School, studied the Department of Homeland Security program Secure Communities, which screens every individual arrested by local law enforcement for immigration violations. The program helps federal authorities to identify and potentially deport noncitizens with criminal records after they have served their time.

But the study authors found that the goal of removing potentially dangerous criminal aliens — more than 288,000 convicted criminals were deported from October 2008 to May 2014, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement — may not be doing much to reduce the overall crime rate.

The program seeks to deter violent crime by prioritizing the removal of immigrants with offending rates much higher than that of the average immigrant. But, according to Cox and Miles, the majority of those deported under Secure Communities had committed only minor infractions.

The study also further dispels the notion that immigrants breed crime. According to the authors’ findings, immigrants on average offend at lower rates than the native-born.

It’s worth noting that the program appears to have modestly reduced property crime. And more significantly, 29 percent of those deported under Secure Communities had, indeed, been convicted of a serious crime, such as rape, murder or other aggravated felonies, which suggests the program has merit. The worst offenders are not necessarily falling through the cracks.

But the study — the first to review the program — should give Perry some food for thought as he peddles his border plan.

And given the limited federal resources for combating illegal immigration, it’s worth wondering if the government can reform the program to better focus its enforcement efforts.

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