Donald Trump told an audience in Phoenix on August 31 that there are two million alien criminals in the United States: “According to federal data, there are at least 2 million, 2 million, think of it, criminal aliens now inside of our country, 2 million people criminal aliens. We will begin moving them out day one. As soon as I take office. Day one. In joint operation with local, state, and federal law enforcement.”
Trump asserts, in effect, that the criminal rate among aliens is ten times that among native-born residents. Figures strongly suggest that the criminal rates of the two populations are about equal, or 1%.
Let’s look at criminal figures in the context of the adult population between 15 and 64. (For a demographic profile of foreign and native born, go here.) There are about 43 million foreign born persons in the U.S. today, of whom 53% are aliens, that is, not naturalized. Leaving out persons under 15 and over 64 years old, that leaves us with about 18.2 million working age aliens. Trump’s two million is 11% of them. Trump is saying, in effect, that one out of every ten alien working age adults is a criminal.
What do incarceration figures tell us? There are about 300,000 aliens in prison today – the vast majority from Latin America. That is equivalent to 2% of the number of working age adult aliens. But a lot of them are in prison for immigration reasons. The U.S. deports about 200,000 aliens a year due to internal (non-border) arrest for criminal violations. That’s equivalent to a bit over 1% of working age aliens. (The great majority of non-border deportations arise from criminal acts.) It would appear highly unlikely that a major uptake in law enforcement is going to significantly (or at all) increase the alien population in prison and in deportation processing. (For figures on incarcerations of aliens and deportations, go here and here.)
The prison population of non-aliens in the U.S appears to about two million. There are about 230 million native born working age residents. This means there are slightly less than 1% of number of working age native Americans in prison.