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A Tale of Two Countries | Protect us from the criminal element | Save lives. Then talk.
Make citizenship accessible to those who contribute. | Create laws that are fair and concise.
Develop a work-based, binational agreement. | Open the door to those already here. | Get the facts.

On October 26, 2006, President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorizes the federal government to move forward with constructing 700 miles of new barriers along the American southern border.

By Jeffrey B. Bumgarner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, criminal justice

The Mexican government promptly decried the legislation as un-neighborly and has even characterized it as a human rights violation. The hypocrisy saturating Mexico's criticism of U.S. immigration policy, given Mexico's own abysmal human-rights record with immigrants on its own southern border, does not detract from the fact that the Secure Fence Act is controversial here at home.

While undocumented immigrants entering the United States by way of the Mexican border come from many countries, the majority are citizens of Mexico. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 57 percent of all adjudicated immigration offenders are Mexican nationals.

Most illegal immigrants come to the United States to improve their lives and the lives of their families. The vast majority intend to work hard and make money. Many use their income to support their extended families back in their home countries. Money sent home from migrant workers in the United States is a major source of income for the Mexican economy, second only to income earned from oil exports.

Immigration advocates assert that migrant workers serve a vital economic interest in the United States. For these advocates, any response to illegal immigration must consider this. Others argue on humanitarian grounds that illegal immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere should be embraced as global citizens and that doing so is in the best traditions of a free, multicultural and prosperous country such as the United States. Still others caution that illegal immigrants, despite providing cheap labor, are a net loss for the U.S. taxpayer due to health care, education and welfare expenditures.

While compelling ethical, economic and political arguments exist for and against permissive immigration policies, the toll of illegal immigration and porous borders on the criminal justice system is difficult to ignore. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol arrested 1.2 million illegal aliens and smugglers in fiscal year 2005 and interdicted illegal drugs worth $1.4 billion. Most of those arrested were guilty only of entering the country illegally and were deported quickly. Drug smugglers and other serious offenders were held for prosecution.

Non-citizens make up nearly 20 percent of the federal prison population. The percentage of non-citizens in state prisons is somewhat lower. However, the data does not account for those illegal immigrants who are fugitives from justice and are believed to have fled back south of the border.
It is widely known that Mexico will not extradite fugitives facing the death penalty. Mexico also routinely refuses to extradite anyone of Mexican citizenship or descent facing even life in prison. The Supreme Court in Mexico ruled in 2001 that a life sentence to prison amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Hundreds of extradition requests from the United States for violent offenders are being ignored by the Mexican government.

Since fiscal 2004, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has removed more than 400,000 illegal aliens from the United States, more than half of whom had criminal records. Since May 2005, ICE has arrested more than 4,100 foreign members of violent street gangs. Since July 2003, it has arrested more than 9,000 foreign nationals who were known violent or predatory sex offenders. Approximately 40 percent of those were in the country illegally. In fairness, these arrestees came from many countries and not exclusively from Mexico or even Latin America.

Criminal profiler Deborah Schurman-Kauflin recently published a study of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants from 1999 to 2006. The study examined 1,500 cases of serial rapes, sexual homicides, child molestations, and other forms of sexual assault committed by illegal immigrants. During that 7-year period, Shurman-Kauflin estimates that illegal immigrants sexually assaulted more than 900,000 victims. Her analysis led her to further estimate that there are approximately 240,000 illegal immigrant sex offenders in the United States today. While her methodology involves challengeable extrapolation, the study's raw data nonetheless point to a serious and genuine violent crime problem present in a segment of the illegal immigrant population.

It seems common sense (or "uncommon," as the case may be) that any public policy solution to address illegal immigration must also consider potential crime victims. Given that 30 percent of those victimized by violent illegal aliens are themselves in the United States illegally, it does no one a service to deny that a criminal element can enter our country as easily as hard-working migrants do and that more crime is an actual side-effect of porous borders.

Many critics of the Secure Fence Act lament that the legislation did not address illegal immigration in a comprehensive manner as it failed, among other things, to provide avenues for achieving legal status and even citizenship for undocumented aliens presently in the country. However, a concern for public safety requires that border security, effective immigration enforcement and greater cooperation from Mexico and other countries on criminal justice matters be leading themes of any comprehensive immigration reform package.

Jeffrey Bumgarner is a criminal justice associate professor and author of Profiling and Criminal Justice in America and Federal Agents: The Growth of Federal Law Enforcement in America.
Contact him at

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