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The Various Ways A Permeable Border Leads to Crime Without Limits

It’s unquestionable that the significant increase in immigration due to the relaxed border policies of the Biden administration has been accompanied by a considerable amount of crime, although the exact amount is not known.

When President Biden's supporters criticized him for calling the man who allegedly killed Georgia co-ed Laken Riley an "illegal," they highlighted a controversial word in American politics.

The progressive effort to refer to border crossers as undocumented or unauthorized can also minimize and hide the significant problem of crime committed and caused by the arrival of millions of migrants since Biden was elected. This often leaves the migrants themselves as victims.

While advocates for migrants argue that illegal arrivals commit crimes at lower rates than Americans, it is impossible to verify this because the federal government and most states do not categorize crimes by immigration status.

Criminologists also point out that this overlooks the wide range of legal offenses associated with illegal immigration, such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, child labor violations, prostitution, illegal employment, and so on.

What is unequivocal, based on statistical averages, is that the significant increase in immigration since the Biden administration relaxed border policies — estimated at more than 4 million people by the administration, but potentially millions more according to other sources — has been accompanied by a considerable amount of crime, even though it is difficult to quantify.

A large number of migrants, though not all, end up breaking laws due to their circumstances rather than deliberately engaging in criminal activities. However, their initial entry into the country is illegal, and it is often followed by living on the fringes of the law: residing in the U.S. without insurance or proper work permits, providing illegal labor for unscrupulous or indifferent employers, resorting to the black market for fake Social Security cards, and frequently becoming targets for thieves or extortionists. Their aspiration to come to America creates a wide pool of criminal activity involving them or those who illegally profit from them.

“For certain criminal matters, such as homicides, we have a good understanding of the scale, whether or not we solve all of them,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a vice president at the Cato Institute who examines the economic impact of immigration. “But with some of these other activities, it's similar to all black markets in that it involves secretive behavior. We don't know the extent of crime in these cases, and in a way, it's virtually impossible to know.”

An additional layer of this criminal problem is the so-called “coyotes” who smuggle migrants to the southern border. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is sympathetic to the situation of refugees, presents a harsh view of the exploitative lawbreakers who are present among the caravans, trucks, and trains heading north.

“Some criminal groups see migrants as just one of many commodities to be smuggled, alongside drugs and firearms,” it stated in a 2018 report. “Since the smuggling of migrants is a highly profitable illicit activity with a relatively low risk of detection, it is appealing to criminals.”

The United Nations also recognizes the near impossibility of measuring these criminal operations. “Assessing the actual scale of this crime is a complex issue, due to its underground nature and the challenge of identifying when irregular migration is being facilitated by smugglers,” it mentioned.

To repay these smugglers or the people willing to "host" them in the U.S., many migrants — no one knows how many — are often forced into illegal behavior.

“Even people who may come here with no criminal intent at all may find themselves involved in some sort of criminal activity because the cartels that control the immigration channels are going to get their money one way or another,” said Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which advocates for policies to seal the border from illegal penetrations. “Going to work for the cartels is one way they can pay off their debts. Others may find themselves pressed into indentured servitude or, even worse, being trafficked in the sex trades.”

Although they receive little attention in the United States, the crimes associated with migration begin south of the border. Since Joe Biden sent a clear signal while running for president that he would welcome mass immigration, tens of thousands of people along the Central American isthmus have been inspired to migrate and have become victims too. Vulnerable and poor people making the more than 2,000-mile journey from the Darién Gap in Panama to the Texas border have been preyed upon physically and economically, contributing to the enormous human cost.

“As millions of people have put themselves needlessly in the hands of cartels and smugglers to make the journey to the Southwest border, an untold number have suffered violence, degradation, and abuse at the hands of these ruthless organizations, while countless others have perished or simply been left to die in the jungles and deserts along the way,” according to the majority report from the House Committee on Homeland Security last October.

Todd Bensman, a writer with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies who has traveled extensively along the northward immigration routes, said travelers are frequently victimized and crime has exploded along with record increases in the numbers of people on the move.

“It’s not all about killings — they are getting raped and robbed, too,” Bensman said. “There are loan sharks who let victims know they know where family members are located — that’s a crime. And people are desperate, they are forced to steal food, there have been assaults on police, and recently a camp in Panama was burned down.”

Criminologists say part of the problem in measuring migrant-related crime in the United States is “sanctuary” jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration agencies. Sanctuary enforcement is also not a category traditionally tracked by law enforcement agencies. Nowrasteh said that several years ago he sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all 50 states seeking data on crimes committed by or on immigrants and only Texas offered a response. Since then, he believes, Georgia has begun amassing statistics, but the state has not yet issued any public reports.

Grim arithmetic suggests the human costs of the unprecedented tide of illegal immigration under Biden, according to multiple reports and congressional testimony. A case in point is the hundreds of thousands of “unaccompanied alien children,” the innocuous-sounding phrase employed by a bureaucracy focused on avoiding the use of “illegals” who are newly arrived in the Biden years. Their oversight and handling have been mishandled, unintentionally or otherwise, by government agencies, with the outcomes of children being trafficked and U.S. child labor laws being broken.

A 2023 study by the conservative Heritage Foundation found that arrests for human trafficking increased by 50 percent and convictions for the crime by 80 percent in federal fiscal year 2022. Of those trafficked, 72 percent were immigrants, most of them here unlawfully, the study concluded. There was bipartisan anger last July when the Labor Department revealed illegal child labor cases had risen by 44 percent in the last year.

The impacts are felt across the United States. The New York Post reports that “a street in Corona, Queens,” has become “into the city’s boldest open-air market for sex — one so popular with perverts that it’s advertised on YouTube. As police enforcement decreases and immigration surges nearly a dozen brothels have [also] set up shop along Roosevelt Avenue near Junction Boulevard.”

RealClearInvestigations has reported that many of the drug dealers who have turned San Francisco’s Tenderloin district into an open-air drug market are migrants connected to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. “The drug pushers are easy to spot: Unlike the users, they look healthy and wear clean clothes,” Leighton Woodhouse reported. “They’re almost universally young men, mostly Honduran (on the streets of San Francisco they’re called ‘Hondos’).”

Describing the plight of “twelve-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee,” “underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina,” and “children sawing planks of wood on overnight shifts in South Dakota,” the New York Times has reported that “migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country.”

Millions of migrants working for legal businesses are also breaking the law. RCI has reported that “the historic surge of illegal immigrants across America’s southern border is fueling a hidden crime spree few in Washington seem willing or able to address: widespread identity theft victimizing unwitting Americans perpetrated by migrants who need U.S. credentials to work. … Federal authorities have found that well over 1 million are using Social Security numbers belonging to someone else — i.e. stolen or ‘shared’ with a relative or acquaintance — or numbers that are fabricated.”

Such theft involves many American citizens, who hire migrants with no such documents or who turn a blind eye to potentially stolen IDs.

Other Americans fall victim to crime connected to migration. For example, seizures of fentanyl, the synthetic painkiller the Centers for Disease Control blamed for a record 112,000 overdose deaths in 2023, have skyrocketed. In 2021, law enforcement agencies seized some 11.2 thousand pounds of the lethal drug, but in just two years the Chinese-abetted trade through Mexico has more than doubled, hitting 27,000 pounds last year, according to Customs and Border Patrol figures. Some immigration and drug experts believe the vast numbers of people crossing the border make it harder to interdict the flow of narcotics into the U.S.

Just two days before Biden used the term “illegal” to describe Jose Antonio Ibarra, the 26-year-old suspected Venezuelan gang member accused of killing Laken Riley after entering the U.S. unlawfully in Texas in 2022, the Texas Department of Public Safety celebrated the third anniversary of its “Operation Lone Star.” The statistics provided a glimpse into the law enforcement situation at the focal point of illegal immigration to the U.S.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott referred to the operation as a direct result of the Biden administration’s deliberate failure to enforce existing U.S. immigration law. As of March, Operation Lone Star has led to “over 503,800 apprehensions of illegal immigrants and over 40,400 arrests of criminals, with more than 36,100 felony charges,” according to the state’s Department of Public Safety. Additionally, authorities reported confiscating “over 469 million lethal doses of fentanyl during this border mission.”

Disputed, and Hard-to-Find, Crime Statistics

Despite this, many immigration advocates continue to argue that immigrants have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans.

The news and social media might be filled with attention-grabbing incidents, like the group of migrants in New York City who assaulted police officers in Times Square. But Nan Wu, research director of the liberal American Immigration Council, told RCI that the notion of the U.S. being in the midst of a crime wave due to the millions of illegal immigrants who have entered the country during Biden’s first term is an exaggerated misconception.

One of the most frequently cited studies on this topic is based on Texas data from 2012 to 2018, as published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Compared to undocumented immigrants,” the study found, “US-born citizens are more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes.”

However, not all experts agree. Jason Richwine and Steven Caramota of CIS have criticized the PNAS study for failing to consider additional findings made by Texas authorities. “It is a misleading claim for several reasons,” the two argued. “First, studies asserting it as fact are inherently flawed, because most cities and states do not maintain or publish data on criminals’ immigration status, making any conclusions drawn from available data questionable.”

Because the rates rise when the immigration status of individuals already serving time in Texas jails is taken into consideration, PNAS did not fully capture the complete extent of the problem, Richwine informed RCI.

“People have been too quick to draw definitive conclusions because it’s unclear whether Texas’ [statistics] are conclusive — they are not,” he stated. “More states should adopt the practices of Texas and Texas should be more transparent about their actions.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to RCI's inquiries about migrant crime, nor did the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, the dispute emphasizes the fact, recognized by all sides, that the scarcity of reliable information leads to the only certain conclusion that there is more crime, regardless of the perpetrator, due to the influx of over 7 million people in three years.

“According to Mehlman, some law enforcement agencies are choosing not to cooperate and acknowledge the extent of the crimes committed by illegal aliens. This is because if they did, they would have to explain to the public why they continue to have sanctuary policies that protect criminal aliens.”

There are also other issues with the widely cited crime rate figures. Herrmann told RCI that one problem with all crime research is that crimes are not always reported. Experts have to rely on available law enforcement data, which is not comprehensive for various reasons.

‘Intellectual Fraud’

The numbers are also misleading because most people crossing the border illegally give themselves up quickly, knowing that they will be released into the U.S. with the expectation of appearing for a court date years later. The ones trying to stay hidden are more likely to have criminal pasts, meaning a higher percentage of them could be among the at least 1.6 million “gotaways” estimated to have entered the U.S. illegally since 2021.

In its most recent annual report, U.S. Enforcement and Removal Operations stated that in fiscal 2023, 3,406 known or suspected gang members were removed, which is a 27.7% increase over FY2022. Additionally, 139 known or suspected terrorists were removed, marking a 148.2% increase over FY2022. Furthermore, ERO officials made 170,590 administrative arrests, a 19.5% increase from FY2022. Of the total arrests made, 43% had criminal convictions or pending charges, an increase from 32.5% in FY2022.

According to the House Committee on Homeland Security majority report in October, Border Patrol recorded 35,450 arrests of illegal aliens with criminal backgrounds, which is approximately 14,000 more such arrests than the previous four fiscal years combined.

Those caught with prior convictions were found to have committed various crimes such as assault, battery, domestic violence, sexual offenses, driving under the influence, burglary, and theft, as noted in the report.

The committee’s Republican members heavily criticized Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ handling of immigration. The report was another reason for Mayorkas' impeachment in February.

The harsh reality, often expressed by survivors — Laken Riley’s parents in this case — is that the awful crimes committed by migrants that cause national outrage might not have occurred if laws were enforced.

Laken Riley’s devastated father, Jason, stated on March 18 that they have no idea if anything would have changed, but the individual was in the country illegally. He believes that the situation might have been different if there were secure borders.

After Riley’s shocking abduction and killing, her parents and others were astounded that a man with prior arrests and alleged ties to Venezuelan criminal gangs was in the country at all. The Border Patrol Union blamed Biden’s border policies for this.

Christopher Herrmann, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that feeling such strong emotional pain is understandable and that trying to look at the incidents without strong emotions does not provide any comfort to any victim. However, he mentioned that the same argument could be applied to other terrible murders — for example, gun crimes, where the deadly weapon is often obtained and owned illegally. In other words, the crime should never have occurred if the laws were properly followed.

But Bensman disagrees with that reasoning. Because the Biden administration's deliberate, ongoing policy of opening the border has brought the criminal themselves, not just their tools, into the situation.

“You can’t compare ‘illegal crimes’ to crimes by illegals — it’s the wrong comparison because the second one is 100% preventable and unnecessary, whereas we have to deal with U.S. crime. The entire argument that 'they’re not as bad' regarding illegal immigrants is intellectually dishonest; it provides them with a way out when it is clear that the perpetrator should have been deported.”

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations.

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