His-Panic

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Previously
by Ron Unz: If
You Can't Trust Chalabi-the-Thief, Whom Can You Trust?

 

 
 

According to Lou Dobbs, “a third of the prison population in
this country is estimated to be illegal aliens,” and Glenn Beck
regularly warns of “an illegal alien crime wave.” Congressman
Tom Tancredo insists, “The face of illegal immigration on our
borders is one of murder, one of drug smuggling, one of vandalism
for all the communities along the border, and one of infiltration
of people coming into this country for purposes to do us great harm.”
Michelle Malkin adds an even more terrifying note, calling our borders
“open channels not only for illegal aliens and drug smugglers,
but terrorists, too.” Even as far back as 2000, the highly regarded
General Social Survey found that 73 percent of Americans believed
that immigration caused higher crime rates, a level of concern considerably
greater than fears about job losses or social unity.

As Latino gangs
have gained notoriety in the United States – particularly MS-13,
dubbed the “The World’s Most Dangerous Gang” by usually
restrained National Geographic – images of violent foreigners
have come to dominate much of the national debate on immigration
policy. A perception has taken root in the minds of the American
public and many elected leaders that the greatest threat posed by
mass immigration is crime.

In recent decades,
most immigrants have been Hispanic; Asians, who constitute the other
large portion of the inflow, are generally regarded as economically
successful and law-abiding. Although many Hispanics are American-born,
the vast majority still comes from a relatively recent immigrant
background. So to a considerable extent, popular concerns about
immigrant crime and popular concerns about Hispanic crime amount
to the same thing. While fears of perceived racial insensitivity
may force many critics to choose their words carefully, widespread
belief that Hispanics have high or perhaps very high crime rates
seems to exist.

But is this
correct? Or are these concerns rooted in the same excitable and
ideological mindset that produced endless stories of Saddam’s
notorious WMD, with activists and their media accomplices passing
along rumors and personal beliefs in pursuit of a political agenda
rather than bothering to determine the facts? Does America face
a Hispanic crime problem or merely a Hispanic crime hoax?

Personal experiences
are no substitute for detailed investigation, but they sometimes
provide a useful reality check. Since the early 1990s, I’ve
lived in Silicon Valley, a region in which people of white European
ancestry are a relatively small minority, separately outnumbered
by both Asians and Hispanics, with many of the latter quite poor
and often here illegally. On any given day, more than half of the
people I encounter in Palo Alto are Hispanics from immigrant backgrounds.
Yet my area of the country has exceptionally low crime rates and
virtually no serious ethnic conflict. This confounds the expectations
of many of my East Coast friends.

Prior to moving
back to my native California, I lived for five years in Jackson
Heights, Queens, one of the most heavily immigrant and ethnically
diverse parts of New York City. There as well, white Europeans were
a small minority and immigrants from various Latin American countries
were the largest ethnic group, close to an absolute majority of
the local population. On a typical afternoon or evening, probably
80 percent of the people walking the streets of my neighborhood
were non-white, and on dozens of occasions I returned home from
Manhattan on a late-night train, the only white face in the subway
car. Yet in all my years of living there, I never encountered a
hostile or menacing situation, let alone suffered an actual criminal
attack. Hardly what one would expect from television images, let
alone the wild claims made by conservative magazines or talk radio.
The “thousands of brutal assailants and terrorists” City
Journal’s Heather Mac Donald finds among our immigrant population
must have moved into someone else’s neighborhood.

So were my
personal experiences atypical? Or are the media and conservative
movement portrayals so completely wrong? Hispanics will constitute
a quarter of the American population within a generation or two
according to current demographic projections, so this is an important
issue for the future of our country.

The obvious
way to answer the question is to consult the public FBI Uniform
Crime Report database, which provides aggregated information on
the race of all criminal suspects throughout America. Unfortunately,
there’s a problem: Hispanic criminals are sometimes reported
as “white” and sometimes not, rendering the federal crime
data almost useless. Therefore, indirect means must be used to estimate
the crime rate of Hispanics compared to whites. (Throughout this
essay, “white” shall refer to non-Hispanic whites.)

One metric
to examine might be relative incarceration rates, since most people
who begin a life of criminal activity end up behind bars sooner
or later – usually sooner. Furthermore, since so much of prison
violence is along racial lines, correctional authorities are careful
to record the ethnicity of individual inmates, and the aggregate
data is made available annually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Indeed, over the years, prison-reform groups such as The Sentencing
Project, as well as various federal judges, have used this official
data to criticize the prison system for its massive overrepresentation
of racial minorities among inmates relative to their share of the
population.

If we examine
the data in the most recent 2008 BJS report, published in December
2009, we discover the total Hispanic incarceration rate, while far
below that of blacks, is still almost 150 percent above the white
average, having fallen a little from the 170 percent figure in 2000.
So perhaps those fearful commentators are right and Hispanics commit
crimes at roughly two-and-a-half times the rate of whites in America.

The traditional
liberal explanation for this would be that Hispanics are considerably
poorer than whites, that poverty and racism cause crime, and that
a white-dominated criminal justice system is likely to be biased
against suspects of a darker hue. There may or may not be some truth
in these common liberal arguments, but since the name of this magazine
is The American Conservative, let us put them aside at least
for now and consider other possible factors.

The most obvious
of these are age and gender. An overwhelming fraction of serious
crime is committed by the young, young males in particular. This
has been the case throughout recorded history and remains true everywhere
in today’s world. Almost all American crimes are committed
by individuals aged 15–44, with the age range 18–29 representing
the sharp peak of criminal activity. Also, the 14-to-1 ratio of
males to females in the U.S. prison system provides a sense of just
how heavily crime is a male phenomenon; for violent offenses, the
ratio is even higher.

And as it happens,
the age distribution in America for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites
is quite different. The median age for Hispanics is around 27, near
the absolute peak of the prime-crime age range. But the median white
age is over 40, putting nearly half the white population above the
likely age range for committing crimes. While it is certainly true
that Hispanic 23-year-olds have much greater criminal tendencies
than white 45-year-olds, a more useful question is the relative
criminality of Hispanics and whites of the same age. Also, many
Hispanics are immigrants, and since immigrants are more likely to
be male, there will be a gender skew in the general Hispanic population.
Therefore, let us consider the Hispanic imprisonment rate relative
to the number of males in the high-crime age range.

Suddenly the
numbers change quite a bit, with the relative Hispanic-to-white
total incarceration rate dropping by a third or more for several
of the age cohorts. But even these lower figures may still be a
bit misleading. As a recent front page New York Times story
pointed out, over half of all federal prosecutions these days are
for immigration-related offenses, and since a huge fraction of illegal
immigrants are from south of the border, the 10 percent or so of
U.S. prison inmates who are in federal custody might significantly
distort our ethnic imprisonment statistics. Anyway, offenses such
as robbery, rape, murder, burglary, assault, and theft are almost
always prosecuted in state courts, so it makes sense to separate
these street crimes from cases of illegal nannies convicted of illegal
nannying.

Another important
reason to focus on state-level imprisonment data is the evidence
of vast differences among regional criminal-justice systems due
to various cultural and political factors. For example, whites in
Oklahoma are incarcerated at a rate almost 300 percent higher than
whites in New Jersey, and while some of this disparity may result
from the greater criminal tendencies of white Oklahomans, it seems
likely that the harshness of the local courts and sentencing guidelines
may also play an important role. We should therefore try to compare
Hispanic incarceration rates with those for whites on a state-by-state
basis so as to minimize the impact of differences in local criminal-justice
systems.

The most recent
BJS publications do not provide state-by-state incarceration data
broken down by ethnicity, but the 2005 BJS Bulletin did exactly
that, and while relative Hispanic incarceration rates have fallen
somewhat in the past five years, the drop has not been large. Therefore,
we should be able to use the 2005 figures with confidence.

Our first discovery
is that even before adjusting for age, the overall Hispanic incarceration
rate drops from 150 percent above the white rate down to just 80
percent above, presumably reflecting the exclusion of immigration-related
federal offenses. We can now use census data to estimate the number
of prime-crime-age young males in the two groups, and since there
is some uncertainty in deciding which age range is most appropriate
for normalization purposes, we should probably explore the results
with several different choices, such as 18-29, 15-34, and 15–44.5
(Many observers believe that the number of Hispanic illegal immigrants
in America is sharply underestimated by the government; if so, this
would correspondingly reduce the relative Hispanic imprisonment
rate.)

Read
the rest of the article

February
24, 2010

Ron
Unz is a Silicon Valley software developer and publisher of The
American Conservative
.

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