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The Trump administration has faced fierce criticism for the deaths of two Guatemalan children who were in U.S. custody after crossing the border, but some bloggers are urging Americans to consider that number in context.
"2 foreign children died due to complications resulting from entering the United States ILLEGALLY!" reads a Dec. 31 Facebook post. "2,000 illegal aliens were arrested by ICE in 2017 for MURDERS committed here in the United States! The liberal media is SILENT! THINK ABOUT IT!"
This story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
In response to an email asking about the stat, Vincent Picard, a deputy assistant director at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s public affairs office, pointed PolitiFact to the agency’s "enforcement and removal operations" report for fiscal year 2018. In a tabulation of the criminal charges and convictions of the people ICE arrested for being in the country illegally that year, the agency lists 2,028 "total offenses in the homicide column," a number that includes 387 charges and 1,641 convictions.
But there are several things to note:
First, the federal fiscal year started Oct. 1, 2017, and ended Sept. 30, 2018. In fiscal year 2017, which started Oct. 1, 2016, and ended Sept. 30, 2017, there were 1,886 total homicide offenses, according to another ICE report.
Second, someone charged with homicide is not necessarily accused of murder. He or she could be accused of manslaughter, the unlawful killing of someone without malice. That could mean killing in the heat of the moment, or accidentally causing someone’s death.
Third, these numbers reflect ICE's administrative arrests, meaning the agency's officers arrested the immigrants for a civil violation of U.S. immigration laws, not for murder.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the 2,028 figure doesn’t represent the number of crimes committed in a given year.
"It also does not refer to 2,028 suspected or convicted criminals," said Elizabeth Cohen, a political science professor at Syracuse University. "It refers to how many times a conviction or suspicion was the reason for arrest. If one person was suspected of five separate crimes, that would contribute five separate times to the overall tally in that table."
Plus, said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, "the homicides could have been committed at any time, not in a single year, and there could be multiple homicides per individual arrested."
He also noted that some of the homicide charges may have been dropped, further lowering the number of homicide offenses on arrestees’ records.
So how many people were murdered by undocumented immigrants in 2017?
"There is no way to count it because no one keeps track," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The answer requires statistical estimations, Cohen said, "the most reliable of which show that in any given year foreign-born persons commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans."
This Facebook post claims that in 2017, ICE arrested 2,000 undocumented immigrants for murder. The number appears to stem from an ICE report detailing how many immigrants the agency arrested for being in the country illegally in fiscal year 2018.
But it is being misinterpreted and misused.
According to the report, those arrested for immigration offenses had a combined 2,028 homicide charges and convictions in their records. But those offenses could have been accumulated over many years — not just 2017 — and didn’t necessarily happen the same year ICE arrested these people. In addition, a homicide could be a murder, but it could also be an accidental killing. Finally, ICE didn’t pick any of these folks up for murder; it picked them up for being in violation of the nation’s immigration laws.
We rate this claim False.
Facebook post, Dec. 31, 2018
Email correspondence with Alex Nowrasteh, senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, Jan. 7, 2018
Fiscal Year 2018 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Fiscal Year 2017 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Email interview with Vincent Picard, deputy assistant director, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Jan. 7, 2019
Email interview with Elizabeth Cohen, assistant professor of political science, Syracuse University, Jan. 8, 2018
Email interview with Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. Programs, Migration Policy Institute, Jan. 7, 2018
Email interview with Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies, Center for Immigration Studies, Jan. 7, 2018
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