The infotainment show Fox & Friends recently trumpeted the absurd and baseless claim that unauthorized immigrants kill 2,158 people in the United States each year. However, as Media Matters describes in detail, this random number is based on a 2005 article in the right-wing journal Human Events that uses a methodology no serious researcher could possibly endorse. The author of that article derived his “estimate” by assuming that unauthorized immigrants in the United States commit murders at exactly the same rates as the murder rates in their respective home countries. So unauthorized Mexicans are assumed to mimic the Mexican murder rate once they get here, unauthorized Salvadorans are assumed to mimic the Salvadoran murder rate, etc. As if this weren’t ludicrous enough, the author throws in an inflammatory and irrelevant comparison with the U.S. death toll in Iraq. In fact, empirical research over the past century has demonstrated repeatedly that immigrants to the United States, including the unauthorized, are far less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. And no amount of grandstanding by Fox and Friends will change that simple fact.

The notion that unauthorized immigrants bring the murder rates of their home countries with them when they enter the United States is not only inherently absurd, but has no basis in reality. For instance, a detailed study of incarceration rates in the United States using data from the 2000 Census found that foreign-born Mexicans, more than half of whom are unauthorized, “had an incarceration rate of only 0.7 percent in 2000—more than 8 times lower than the 5.9 percent rate of native-born males of Mexican descent.” If unauthorized Mexicans were actually committing murders in the United States at the same pace as the Mexican murder rate, one would expect many more foreign-born Mexicans to be behind bars. But that is not the case.

Findings such as these should come as no surprise. Immigrants in general are a highly motivated, “self-selected” group. That is, they made the difficult decision to uproot themselves from their home countries in order to create better lives for themselves in the United States. This is not an undertaking for the lazy or feint of heart. Moreover, given the harsh realities of U.S. immigration law, immigrants have a great deal of incentive to not get in trouble with the law. Even legal immigrants can be deported for relatively minor infractions, let alone unauthorized immigrants who are nearly assured of deportation if they fall into the hands of immigration authorities. But the bottom line is the evidence—and the evidence shows that the vast majority of immigrants do not commit serious crimes, regardless of their legal status.

Photo by cernIO.