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Fact Check: No Evidence Undocumented Immigrants Commit More Crimes

The Trump administration on Wednesday was all about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. There’s one catch: There's no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crime.
Image: Donald Trump meeting with immigration crime victims
President Donald Trump meets immigration crime victims to urge passage of House legislation to save American lives on June 28, 2017, in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

The Trump administration on Wednesday was all about crime committed by undocumented immigrants.

President Donald Trump met at the White House with the victims of crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security championed increased arrests, and the Department of Justice called for the passage of a law that would up the penalties for undocumented immigrants who attempt to reenter the country.

The day’s events meshed well with Trump's campaign rhetoric that illegal immigration was a public safety issue, with criminals “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” as he put it in one campaign speech.

There’s one catch: There's no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crime.

Trump has often drawn a connection between illegal immigration and violent crime. A handout provided by the White House on Wednesday quoted candidate Trump: "Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws."

Politifact noted last year that there's no national database of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants or study that tracked the crimes they have committed. "The challenge in finding concrete numbers is due to a shortfall of data," Politifact said.

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. tripled between the 1990s and 2013, while violent crime declined 48% and property crime fell 41% over that period.

What's more, a slew of studies have found that immigrants as a whole — both legal and undocumented — commit less crime than native-born Americans.

One study in Criminology found that "violent crime rates tended to decrease as metropolitan areas experienced gains in their concentration of immigrants." A 2007 report by a pro-immigrant nonprofit, American Immigration Council, concluded that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated.”

On the campaign trail, Trump, as quoted in the White House fact sheet, also vowed to "end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths."

Yet sanctuary cities appear to be safer than non-sanctuary cities, according to an University of California analysis of federal data published by a liberal think tank, and another analysis by political scientists found those cities do not see a surge in crime.

"Did I say aliens commit more crimes than U.S. citizens? I didn’t say that," Thomas Homan, acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on Wednesday. "The purpose is to dispel notion if you enter illegally, you should be comfortable."

In a handouts given to reporters Wednesday, the White House offered a slew of statistics about enforcement. Many were accurate; a handful were false or misleading.

One fact sheet boasted that ICE had removed 2,798 “criminal gang members” in fiscal year 2017 — a period that includes nearly four months of President Barack Obama’s term — while a second hand out touted 1,378 arrests from an anti-gang operation during this calendar year (20 days of which where under Obama’s leadership.)

What’s more, experts told NBC News that the kind of immigration enforcement the Trump administration championed Wednesday is likely to drive overall crime numbers up, as communities shut out authorities, declining to report crime or cooperate with police for fear of being deported.