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Criminal Aliens Are Not Surging the Border

Summary:
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have apprehended 531,711 people so far during the fiscal year (FY) 2019.  CBP apprehended 109,144 people in April alone, marking the second month in a row that more than 100,000 people have been apprehended.  Relative to the end of April in FY 2018, apprehensions this year are up 84 percent and the number is more than double just for the month of April relative to last April.  Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the number of criminal aliens encountered by CBP is continuing to drop. CBP defines criminal aliens as those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also a crime in the United States. From the beginning of FY 2015 through the end of April 2019, the

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have apprehended 531,711 people so far during the fiscal year (FY) 2019.  CBP apprehended 109,144 people in April alone, marking the second month in a row that more than 100,000 people have been apprehended.  Relative to the end of April in FY 2018, apprehensions this year are up 84 percent and the number is more than double just for the month of April relative to last April.  Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the number of criminal aliens encountered by CBP is continuing to drop.

CBP defines criminal aliens as those who have been convicted of crimes here or abroad if the conviction is for conduct which is also a crime in the United States. From the beginning of FY 2015 through the end of April 2019, the absolute number and percent of criminal aliens encountered by CBP, which includes Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations, have fallen in every year.  In 2015, about 4.9 percent of all CBP apprehensions were criminal aliens. For FY 2019 through the end of April, only about 1.9 percent of people apprehended by CBP were criminal aliens.

The absolute number of criminal aliens apprehended is also dropping.  If the number of criminal aliens apprehended continues to decline apace for FY 2019, the absolute number will be also about 35 percent below the total number apprehended in 2015.  To put that in perspective, CBP has already apprehended about 87,000 more people so far in FY 2019 than in all of FY 2015.

From FY 2015 to FY 2019, the percentage of those apprehended by CBP who were non-criminals rose from 95.1 percent to 98.1 percent while the percentage who were criminals fell from 4.9 percent to 1.9 percent (Figure 1).  In absolute numbers, criminal aliens have also declined from 26,932 apprehensions in FY 2015 to 10,173 through the first seven months of FY 2019.  If the trend of criminal alien apprehensions continues for the rest of FY2019, there will be about 17,439 by the end of this FY – well below the 20,486 recorded in 2018.

Figure 1: Non-Criminal and Criminal Aliens

The most persistent argument in support of closing the border, harsher border security methods, or restricting asylum is that those being apprehended are criminals who pose a serious threat to Americans.  Based on data supplied by CBP, the absolute number of criminal aliens and their proportion of all apprehensions along the border are lower in FY 2019 than in previous years.  Furthermore, these numbers provide evidence that the current surge of Central American women and children is better from an American security perspective than a large surge of single men.  Although the current immigration issues on the border present challenges, they do not present serious criminal challenges.

Alex Nowrasteh
He is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. His popular publications have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the Fletcher Security Review, and Public Choice.

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