Fox News host Laura Ingraham hosted John Lott, president of the conservative Crime Prevention Research Center, to defend his report alleging that undocumented immigrants in Arizona commit more crimes -- and more dangerous crimes -- than other Arizonans. But the report, which contradicts virtually every other study, failed to accurately distinguish between undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents and ignored other factors that likely skewed the results.
Lott’s report, published January 30 and which purported to “separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents,” claimed that “undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans.” The report also claimed, that “There are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants.” In response, the libertarian think tank Cato Institute pointed out that the dataset Lott used in fact “does not allow him or anybody else to identify illegal immigrants” (emphasis original). According to Cato immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh, Lott “erroneously assumed” that the data he used, from a category “called ‘non-US citizen and deportable,’ only counted illegal immigrants.” Put another way, he “mistakenly chose a variable that combines an unknown number of legal immigrants with an unknown number of illegal immigrants.”
Latino Decision’s Jose Marichal also noted that Lott’s findings contradict “the academic consensus that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than the general population.”
On February 6, Ingraham gave Lott a platform to respond to criticisms of his report. He disagreed with Cato’s assertion that he had mistakenly attributed crimes of legal permanent residents to undocumented immigrants, arguing that he used “pre-sentencing reports that” determine “what their citizenship status is.” However, there is no mention of “pre-sentencing reports” in Lott’s study, and he has demonstrated in the past that he has no qualms about pushing blatant lies to support his research. Lott suspiciously ignored that aspect of Cato’s criticism in his written response.
Lott also claimed that other studies that contradict his findings on this issue are unreliable because, he argued, they “completely mix together legal and illegal immigrants, or they do surveys.” But nearly every reliable study that has examined the crime rate of immigrant populations, undocumented and otherwise, has consistently found that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens; none of these studies relied solely on surveys.
Lott regularly publishes skewed research that supports his conservative agenda, particularly on gun issues. Nonetheless, Fox and other right-wing media outlets treat him as a legitimate figure, and as result, public institutions occasionally have embraced his error-filled work. According to Will Gaona, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Arizona chapter, Lott is currently authoring a publicly-funded report for Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC).
Lott published his flawed report amid immigration negotiations in Congress that will decide the fate of millions of immigrants, some of whom have lived in the U.S. since childhood. With the help of his conservative media echo chamber, Lott may be aiding the implementation of public policies that are not based in reality.