Immigrants Who Have Committed Felonies Are 'Significantly Less Likely' to Reoffend Compared to U.S.-born Americans, Florida Study Finds

While President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly sought to paint asylum seekers and immigrants making their way to the U.S. border as "criminals," studies have consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

And now, a new study claiming to be the first of its kind is lending weight to that body of work, with researchers in Florida finding immigrants with felony convictions are "significantly less likely" to reoffend compared to their U.S.-born counterparts.

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections, the study, which was conducted by researchers at Florida State University and published in Justice Quarterly, analyzed the recidivism rates of 192,556 immigrants and non-immigrants who had been incarcerated and released from the state's prisons between 2004 and 2011. Of the total, 188,677 were nonimmigrants, while 3,879 were immigrants.

Comparing recidivism rates between both groups, researchers Marin Wenger and Javier Ramos found that 32 percent of nonimmigrants were reconvicted of a felony offense within three years of being released, compared to only 19 percent of immigrants.

In order to control for differences in recidivism rates being explained by other factors associated with criminality, researchers took into account participants' "gender, age, race and ethnicity, prior felony convictions and most recent felony conviction," as well as other factors, including whether the individual had been deemed a "habitual offender" in Florida.

However, because the immigrant sample did not include foreign-born offenders who had been transferred into the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for detention or deportation, foreign-born offenders with higher chances of reoffending could be underrepresented.

It is also important to note that because the data used in the study was from 2004 to 2011, its findings are not a reflection of the most up-to-date recidivism rates.

In an interview with Newsweek, Wenger said that while the study was focused specifically on Florida and looks at data largely from the previous decade, she believes it is should be looked at as part of a broader context.

"It's pretty consistent with the overall picture that we've gotten from previous research on immigration and crime," she said. "All the prior research has shown that immigrants are less criminally involved than the non-immigrant population."

Without naming names, Wenger said that the study, which she said was the first to look at the difference between the recidivism rates of immigrants and U.S.-born citizens, should also help policymakers make better decisions when it comes to immigration law enforcement.

"I think it's important for all of our policies to be evidence-based because we don't want our law enforcement be wasting resources," she said.

With a growing body of work suggesting that immigrants are not "particularly dangerous or criminally-involved," compared to U.S.-born citizens, she said, "policy that treats them as such is likely to lead to a waste of resources."

In recent years, a number of studies have suggested that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, with immigrants legally in the U.S. deemed even less likely to carry out crimes.

One study, published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February examining criminal conviction data for 2015 provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, found that native-born residents were significantly more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants who were either int he country legally or illegally, with the study finding undocumented immigrants to have 56 percent fewer criminal convictions than native-born Americans in Texas.

Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Criminology found that states with larger shares of undocumented immigrants were more likely to have lower crime rates than states with smaller immigrant populations in the years 1990 through to 2014.

All three studies are part of a growing body of work appearing to suggest that immigration and the presence of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. does not lead to an increase in crime. U.S. immigration policies, Wenger said, should reflect those findings.

Florida prison
The Booking and Release Center at the Orange County Jail is seen on July 16, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty