Illegal immigrants who have been deported at least once from the United States are far more likely than other immigrants to repeatedly commit crimes, according to a study by the nonprofit Rand Corp.
The data indicated that illegal immigrants, overall, were not a greater crime risk, according to the study, which looked at all inmates released from Los Angeles County Jail for a month in 2002.
But among those who previously had been deported, reentered the U.S. and were arrested and released from jail, nearly 75% went on to commit another crime within a year. And 28% were arrested three or more times during the one-year period.
The recidivism rate was much lower for illegal immigrants who had not been previously deported, with 32% of those inmates being rearrested within a year and 7% arrested three or more times during that year.
Since the data were collected in 2002, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has overhauled screening for illegal immigrants and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has poured resources into border security. But researchers said the analysis still could have public policy implications for L.A. County and other counties around the nation.
"If you are trying to target people who are repeatedly cycled through the criminal justice system, this looks like a good risk marker," said author Laura Hickman, a researcher at Portland State University. "It doesn't make sense to just sweep up all deportable aliens, but to focus resources on the group who are at the most risk for committing new crimes in the community."
The authors acknowledged that the study was limited because they couldn't determine the immigration status of many of the inmates and others may have falsely claimed U.S. birth. As a result, the study limited its analysis to 517 male illegal immigrants released from Los Angeles County jails between Aug. 4 and Sept. 2, 2002.
Law enforcement authorities said the report, published online this summer in the journal Crime & Delinquency, underscores their ongoing efforts to target illegal immigrants who have been ordered deported or removed from the United States. But L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said the report also shows that the federal government needs to do more to stop criminals from sneaking back across the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Criminals who are illegal immigrants know no limits and no boundaries," he said. "The harder we make it for them to get across, the better."
The Los Angeles County Jail began working with federal immigration agents in 2006 to screen foreign-born inmates for possible deportation and have screened more than 20,000 inmates since then. This summer, the Sheriff's Department received $500,000 in county funds to expand the number of staff members conducting the interviews.
Lt. Kevin Kuykendall said the program tries to reach all illegal immigrants but places a priority on gang members, serious criminals and those who have previously been deported. Nevertheless, Kuykendall said, deported immigrants often end up back in Los Angeles -- and often back in the jails.
"If they were here illegally and involved in criminality, just deporting them may not be that much of a deterrent from coming back and continuing on in their criminal ways," he said. "We need to look at prosecuting them for coming [back] across the border."
The U.S. attorney's office is doing just that. From October 2007 through June, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles had prosecuted nearly 500 illegal immigrants who returned to the U.S. after being deported, with most of the defendants receiving sentences of between three and five years. Such cases make up about one-third of all federal prosecutions in Los Angeles County and surrounding counties.
"This study appears to confirm our belief that our practice of prosecuting criminal aliens has a direct effect on protecting the residents of our district," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. "We are doing what we can to address this demonstrated threat by prosecuting these recidivists and locking them up in federal prison."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement also has pursued immigrants with criminal records who have returned after being deported, posting agents in some U.S. attorney's offices in key cities to help with the cases of such offenders.
The agency also recently rolled out a program to put a "virtual" Immigration and Customs presence in all jails and prisons by linking local law enforcement departments with federal databases. And in "fugitive sweeps" in communities across the country, agents have arrested illegal immigrants with criminal records and those who had returned after deportation or received final deportation orders. Such efforts are helping to take "dangerous criminals off the street" and send a deterrent message, agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Aug. 4, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly 265,700 illegal immigrants nationwide, including about 83,700 criminals. Almost 17,600 illegal immigrants, including 6,400 criminals, were deported from Los Angeles County and the surrounding counties.
"This study underscores why criminal aliens, and in particular those who have been previously deported, are a top ICE enforcement priority," Kice said. "These are individuals who have shown no respect for our laws and our borders."
Baca said the recidivism discussed in the study costs Los Angeles County millions of dollars that should be the responsibility of the federal government.
"We spend an enormous amount of resources and money chasing down illegal immigrant criminals and processing them through our system and then deporting them and then having them come back," Baca said. "Local government should not bear the burden of criminals who are illegal immigrants."