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Illegal immigrants and crime

A colleague at another newspaper sent out an inquiry this week about policies on crime suspects who are also illegal immigrants. When should that element be included in a story?

The message included citations of a number of Web sites at which the issue has been addressed:

From the Greensboro, N.C., paper (an editor's blog and reader reaction)

From the Poynter site (Houston Chronicle writer)

From the Poynter site (Reaction to the Houston Chronicle writer)

From the LA Times ombudsman (with reader reaction)

From a Houston Chronicle editor

This was my answer:

I think that immigration status should be treated like that other potentially inflammatory subject, race. Don't introduce it unless it is an essential element of the story. If an illegal immigrant is involved in an automobile accident, for example, and it turns out that he acquired a driver's license fraudulently, then his status is a legitimate element. When I look at something like the Poynter post and see people writing about "preserving our culture," I don't want anything to do with that. We shouldn't shy away from difficult topics, but we also shouldn't needlessly inflame the public.

Though The Sun has no formal policy on identifying crime suspects as illegal immigrants, we do have a policy of not introducing racial identifications into our stories unless there is a clear purpose. You can read about that, and the heat I took from readers, here and here.

Fresh comments about my being a feckless twit may be made below.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:58 PM | | Comments (23)


While Sheriff Joe has been sadly forced in a position, where he has to ask for donations from patriotic Americans. Madam House Speaker Nancy pelosi and her thrall, added an amendment to the Iraq War Appropriations bill. A 3 million illegal alien AMNESTY, when she knows full well that 80% of the American population denied the huge Comprehensive reform bill las March. She decided that this traitorous act, would go unnoticed and adopting an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that gives amnesty to illegal-alien agricultural workers.

The amendment indicates a maximum of 1.35 million illegal alien ag workers could obtain "emergency agricultural worker status" for a five-year period. Since their families also can obtain this status, it is estimated that the total number receiving an amnesty would reach 3 million. The committee also adopted other immigration-related amendments, including one that drastically expands the H-2B visa program for non-agricultural seasonal workers.

As great American patriots like county Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is working to stop the infestation of illegal immigrants in Maricopa County. Tyranny reigns from the Governors throne room, when she undermines his needed funds to carry out his sworn duty to protect the citizens and permanent residents. Unlike the pro-illegal alien state of California, he is the main ingredient that gives citizens hope. Only a few strong mined individuals like Sheriff Joe, is not genuflecting to the Hispanic caucus or the special-big business-interest groups, who would rather hire illegal aliens than citizens.


Joe is not like his pitiful counterpart Los Angeles, Chief of Police Bratton, who must take some blame along with his Mayor stooge Antonio Villa-Mexico who have allowed the great city turn into a cesspool of corruption. Where honest people cannot walk the sidewalk less they be moved down by the filthy gangs, who terrorize the neighborhood. Their is a disgusting stench emanating from Governor Neapolitano's office, that will surely be her undoing when her time in office elapses. In LA a young black mans athletes life was terminated, with a gunshot to the head. 'Special order 40' did not allow the police, to hid this vicious animal the day before he was released from jail. Jamiel Shaw died in a pool of blood, like hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent SOCAL bystanders, because they lived in gang members turf.
I'm a Senior Citizen, but I am sending old time cop Joe, $20.00 and hope his law enforcement coffer fills quickly, so he can rid the pestilence of illegal alien criminals and anybody who has broke our sovereignty laws. Yes! Donations are welcome, if you want to keep Sheriff Joe in ridding his county of the illegal immigrants. Even out-of -state donations are welcome. The Sheriff website is Obviously he is being squeezed by yellow-backed Governors like Neapolitano, who probably is bowing to pro-illegal political pressure and the Hispanic caucus.

Both Democrats and Republicans have turned against the American people and I for one after thirty years have re-resisted as an Independent. It is beyond my understanding, why Americans are in so much of a rush to re-elect traitorous individuals who pander to foreign government, in which 99 percent of the people live in poverty, while those who rule live in opulence in their haciendas.

Then our pandering government from Bush down, allows mainly Mexico to export their itinerant, illiterate over here. Then we the taxpayer are forced to support the 12 to 30 million who squat here, not the predator employers.
While Joe's works feverishly to rid us of the growing deluge of illegal immigrants, Sen.Feinstein, hides a massive 3 million guest worker program, in the Iraq war funds package. Our borders remain open to appease the globalist free traders, who will be blatantly responsible when Ben Laden and his minions silently crossing our border and committing carnage.

Only Sheriff Joe of Maricopa county has the guts to go against the powerful influence of traitors amongst our Washington potentates.

Ah. So it begins.



Indoor voices, please.

Was your hidden agenda to prove that all caps equals shouting?

Illegal aliens and race??? JUST WHAT RACE IS AN ILLEGAL ALIEN ?!? All foreign born people who commit crimes should have their immigration status determined if they commit a crime. Investigating illegal aliens is not a racial issue it is a lawful and public safety issue.

GREAT POST, Brittanicus. I agree with you 100%

If the illegality of illegal immigration and the tremendous cost burden to American taxpayers, our economy, our society and our culture doesn’t infuriate you, then look over just a few studies that put illegal alien crime in focus:

(1) Violating the immigration law is a CRIME
(2) Forging documents is a FELONY CRIME
(3) Passing forged documents is a FELONY CRIME
(4) Stealing ID is a FELONY CRIME
(5) Using stolen ID is a FELONY CRIME

A US GAO study found in a study population of 55,322 illegal aliens incarcerated, on average, each had been arrested 8 times for a total arrest figure of at least 459,614 times. If that isn't astounding enough, these 55,322 illegals in the study population had been arrested for committing 700,000 criminal offenses, which averages 13 crimes per illegal alien. So, each illegal alien incarcerated had been arrested 8 times and had committed at least 13 crimes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, in 2005, 25% of prisoners in federal prisons were illegal aliens, and 4% were legal aliens. This proportion has not gone down; if anything, it has gone up markedly. Tom DeWeese, President of the American Policy Institute states that today, illegal aliens make up twenty nine percent of the U.S. prison population. Bill O'Reilly is on record more recently stating that illegal aliens account for 32% of the federal and state prison population.

The US Justice Department reported that in 2003, alone, 270,000 illegal immigrants had served prison time. The Federation for American Immigration Reform reports: "In March 2000, Congress made public Department of Justice statistics showing that, over the previous five years, the INS had released over 35,000 criminal aliens instead of deporting them. Over 11,000 of those released went on to commit serious crimes, over 1,800 of which were violent ones; including 98 homicides, 142 sexual assaults, and 44 kidnappings. In 2001, thanks to a decision by the Supreme Court, the INS was forced to release into our society over 3,000 criminal aliens who collectively had been convicted of 125 homicides, 387 sex offenses, and 772 assault charges."

According to the well-respected U.S. Center for Immigration Studies (, incarcerated convicted illegal aliens make up 29 percent of federal, state and local prisons at a cost of more than $1.6 billion annually. This number doubles when the costs for apprehension, the justice system, public defenders, interpreters, prosecutors and the courts add to the total.

Illegals represent about 8 percent of Arizona's population and the Arizona Department of Corrections reports that Mexican nationals make up 12 percent of the state's 37,200-inmate prison population.

Undocumented aliens, mostly from Mexico and Central America, now total 1953 inmates in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s jail system. That number represents 21 percent of the overall inmate population of men and women housed in the nation’s third largest jail system. Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that is just small part of the story about those incarcerated in his jails. He says that recent figures show that serious crime (class four felonies and above) are committed substantially by illegal aliens. During two recent surveys, between 27 and 53 percent of all suspects booked into the jail on serious felonies had immigration holds placed on them. The vast majority of those with holds were in the United States illegally. According to the Sheriff’s figures, illegal alien inmate population numbers have grown steadily in Arizona and other border states over the last several years. In March 2005, the illegal alien population in Arpaio’s jails totaled approximately 700. (Borderfire Report 2/28/08 )

A new study shows one in five inmates in North Carolina metropolitan jails were not born in this country. The Sheriff’s Association believes a large number of those inmates are here illegally as well. (News 14 Carolina 2/21/08 )

Members of Utah’s Congressional delegation contacted DHS Secretary Chertoff requesting an additional 22 ICE agents for deportations and to investigate crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. "Our jails are full. The crime rates continue to increase, and we can no longer let this problem escalate," reads one of the letters, signed by Utah's two senators and three representatives. Numerous illegal aliens are committing crimes in Utah communities with virtual impunity," The state now has 25 such agents. (Salt Lake Tribune, 03/05/2008 )

The conservative Federation for Immigration Reform contends that while illegal immigrants made up 3 percent of the total U.S. population in 2003 they made up 5 percent of the total prison population.

The Violent Crimes Institute conducted a study in 2006 that determined there were more than 100 sex offenders crossing our southern border daily. Data indicates that there are approximately 240,000 illegal immigrant sex offenders in the United States who have had an average of four victims each, totaling over one million sex crimes.

Illegal aliens are killing more Americans than the Iraq war, says a report from Family Security Matters that estimates some 2,158 murders are committed every year by illegal aliens in the U.S. The group says that number is more than 15 percent of all the murders reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. and about three times the representation of illegal aliens in the general population.

The report from FSM estimates that the 267,000 illegal aliens currently incarcerated in the nation are responsible for nearly 1,300,000 crimes, ranging from drug arrests to rape and murder. Such statistics debunk the claim that illegal immigration is a victimless crime.

Crimes committed by alien criminals costs U.S. taxpayers $1.6 billion in prison costs alone. The figure doesn’t include the cost of lost property, medical bills of the victims, lost work time for injury recovery, higher insurance costs, etc. –Tom DeWeese, President of American Policy Institute.

In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens. The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave: City Journal, winter 2004

One thing that is never even mentioned by the champions of the illegal aliens nor is factored into any crime studies is the fact that ALL illegal aliens have a 3 – 5 crimes committed head start on American citizens (see the 5 point list above).

Do you ever hear an acknowledgement from the illegal alien facilitators of the more than 50,000 Americans that have been killed by illegal aliens through murder, manslaughter and drunk driving just since 9/11/01? Of course not, that doesn't fit within their pre-determined conclusion that illegals are only hard working economically displaced ‘migrants’ that regardless of the laws they break by entering, remaining and operating in America, are only here for a better life at the expense of no one. Excuse me for being cynical but I’ve seen the data, read the studies, considered the facts and seen the reality. If you haven’t done the same, I urge you to do so without delay.

Furthermore, legalizing an illegal alien’s presence in America by rewarding their illegal behavior through amnesty is not the way to build a good system of law and order. It only invites more criminal activity and non-compliance with our laws.

The central question for everyone, including the facilitators, illegal alien advocates, the ‘no human being is illegal’ compassion crowd, every legislator and RESPONSIBLE MEDIA REPORTERS is this…Why should even ONE American suffer a crime OF ANY SORT at the hands of an illegal alien? With border security and zero tolerance for illegal immigration, these crimes against our citizens are essentially 100% preventable.

I urge you to view this video that puts the tragedy of illegal alien crime victims into perspective:

Isn’t it about time that we engage in Comprehensive Immigration Enforcement rather than allow amnesty with Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

Just to clarify: It's OK for reasonable people to comment here, too.

You know, people who actually read the original post and respond to what it says.

What's that you said about reasonable people? I couldn't hear, there was so much shouting going on. Which may raise the question: "Is it ever a good idea for newspapers to shout?" My response would be yes, but probably not when everyone else is shouting too. That's when it's time for newspaper editors to be level-headed, though of course they often are not. But trying to work out an editorial policy regarding immigration status is certainly a sign of level-headedness I applaud. Like other status questions (race, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, level of education, even criminal record), immigration status should be mentioned in a news story only when it is relevant to the story.

"Just to clarify: It's OK for reasonable people to comment here, too.
You know, people who actually read the original post and respond to what it says."

Sorry John, but "Don't introduce it unless it is an essential element of the story" is also known as sweeping it under the rug and hiding one's head in the sand.

The illegal's in our country is an important and entirely newsworthy issue on it's own; independent of the circumstances or event that triggered it being observed by that days reporter.

If a person arrested for X has an arrest history (let alone a conviction history) it IS an element of the story and DOES warrant being mentioned within it.

The "essential elements" as you choose to limit them are fine for the headline and lead paragraph but newspapers readers expect more than just that limited detail.

Calm down, fans of Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County. You are missing the point here. The issue is, is it necessary to mention that every illegal is an illegal in every story? I don't think it is either. A crime is a crime, and it is not any more serious when committed by an illegal or a citizen. When we mention the immigration status, it feels like the paper is breathlessly saying "O my God, another illegal immigrant defiles our country." The story somewhat loses its objectivity. I think the only time the status is necessary in the story is when the story itself is immigration-related.

John gives the example of an an automobile accident, suggesting that the immigration status of the partipants need not be mentioned unless it is directly related, such as if one of the participants has a fraudently obtained driver's licence.

I'd agree with that, and actually take it a step further. If driver A runs a red light and hits driver B, or passenger C, or pedestrian D, then I don't think it even matters whether B, C, or D have a valid licence, let alone what their immigration status is.

What matters in this story? Well, the time and location, and the names of those involved. Environmental conditions. Whether driver A was sober, and, if it would have made a difference, who was wearing seatbelts. Injuries and property damage. Effects on traffic flow.

There are a lot of details about people's lives that—important as they may be in other contexts—really don't matter to certain stories. What difference would it normally make if driver A worked at an abortion clinic, or if driver B had terminal cancer, or if pedestrian D was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who was in a gay marriage and allergic to cashews? While there certainly could be scenarios where each of these facts might be important, normally they just aren't.

If an unlicenced driver causes an accident, then that is newsworthy. If it's proven that illegal immigrants cause more or fewer car accidents than other people, then that too is newsworthy. But there's a lot to be said for knowing when to stop. News stories aren't biographies: give us the pertinent facts, please, and leave the rest out.

I'm sorry, but I feel that when reporting a crime, the legal status of the perpetrator is important. To suppress this information leads to false impressions about WHO is the crime problem, just as suppressing information about socioeconomic background and race misrepresents issues. If a pattern is determined that illegal aliens are leading crime statistics, then that needs to be a focus of resolving the problem.

Hi John,

I think that the all-caps posters here are proof enough why editors should consider carefully whether or not to put the immigration status of people in a news story.

Although I respect Laurie's opinion, I think it simply naive to think that what we see on the news and read in the papers on crime is actually a good representation of all crimes that happen in our country. For the public to get a true representation of the crime problem, the media would have to report ALL crime, which is impossible, so they stick to the weird and wonderful. Which is never representative of anything but the weird and wonderful.

And to put my two cents in regarding Brittannica's post on the illegal aliens who feed on taxpayers: according to the Social Security Administration an estimated 3/4 of illegal alliens contribute to the SSA through taxes withheld from their wages. That is an estimated 7 billion dollars a year, a sum that has so far, according to SSA itself, kept SS solvent and able to pay out.

Apart from these illegal aliens, there are millions of legal immigrants who contribute to SS and have no right to claim it, being non-citizens. So, Brittanicus, in an ironic way, that $20.00 your 'senior-citizen self' sent to Sherif Joe was partly sponsored by the same illegal immigrants you hate so much.

With all due respect to Laurie, I do not think the status is important for the very reasons that she gave. Mentioning the status gives the false impression that illegal immigrants are leading crime statistics. I have not seen any credible studies that show illegal immigrants commit crime more than citizens do. What about the other side of the coin, what about the illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes by U.S. citizens? We do not say that they were assaulted by citizens. Because it does not matter. Just like it does not matter when the attacker is illegal.

I'm somewhat torn.

I wonder if, in the mundane collection of facts in most crime stories, the typical story might note that the suspect was a doctor, or a pizza deliverer, or a youth league coach, or from Chicago, or from Canada, or a variety of other non-essential but slightly fleshed-out details.

It seems some details are so non-essential they're OK to use. Other details are very relevant to some people, but editors have decided that those people have unhealthy motives for the information.

It's not the essentialness of the information that's the difference, it's that editors have chosen to disagree with many of their readers over what is essential.

I'm torn because I understand the role of editors to edit for a civil, healthy community. It's possible to mention that the person involved in a traffic accident was a doctor without the story becoming a about the role of doctors in society.

Editors have decided, "We're going to write the story we think it is, not the story you think it is." That's the editor's right, but they should accept that they're making such a pro-active decision.

Well this discussion has sure taken a turn from newspaper copy desk rules. But a long as we're into it, here are my thoughts..

Those who seek to demonize millions of illegal aliens, drive them from their homes, jobs and communities here ignore a couple of problems. First, driving them out of town hurts legitimate "American"-owned businesses who hire them, house them, sell to them, and feed them.

Second, depriving them of legitimate ways to earn a living and support their kids may drive some into desperation and criminal activities (beyond their illegal presence here) such as property crime and drugs, which will victimize everyone and fill the prisons.

Third, these folks work hard, they're enriching the fabric of our society. And, they not only pay taxes into the system, supporting services they may not ever benefit from, they also perform services we all enjoy, and make possible economic activity that would likely cease if we threw them all out. Communities that have made them unwelcome have seen entire neighborhoods dry up and go dangerously vacant.

The alternative, of couse is to make them all go away. But that is a false option. I don't think we're prepared to watch millions of people rounded up and herded onto box cars headed for the border, with US-born children ripped from their "illegal" parents' arms, businesses shut down, citizens laid off. That's not the America I grew up in. They're here. We need to deal with reality, not wishful thinking.

The federal government needs to provide the funding needed to make the immigration system work, so that people seeking to come here to work or to live can do so legally, with effective controls and, for those who qualify, a reasonable, timely process for establishing legal residency. That does not exist today. Talk to any immigration lawyer. Then go see the movie "The Visitor."

Legal immigration is a good thing. It always has been (unless you were a native American 1492-Wounded Knee) If you don't think so, go visit a nursing home. Some day you'll likely be a resident in one. Without immigrants, no one will answer your call bell.

I take it you were bored and were looking forward to reading the rantings of ignorant bigots.

To bring this back to editing, did anyone notice that the title of this entry contains a typo? ("Illiegal"? Freudian slip, perhaps?)

Bonus points, Robin.

It's unfortunate that the American dream has come down to getting a free ride.
What your average "working class poor" citizen has a real beef about is why do we have to shoulder the burden of illegal immigrants when we are fighting to provide for our own families.
Medical treatment to illegal immigrants will raise the blood pressure of any tax paying American, and rightfully so.
What we want is not too much to ask for............
Anyone coming into this country should do so legally so they can abide by the same laws.
We are willing to share our America but we are equally willing to share the concept of being a law abiding citizen.
The use of legal or illegal is simply self explanatory, either ye are or ye aint, and if ye aint, well you are costing us tax payers a pretty penny.

an ilegal imigrants first act in this country is a crime who is to say they wont continue.
I used to live next to mexican imigrants. their house got drive byed because their son was a gangster.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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