Notable claim

The claim I wish to examine is from dcwhispers.com,

Case in point—the number of deaths, assaults, and sex crimes, including human trafficking, taking place on America’s southern border dwarfs by many times over the number of deaths attributed to mass shootings. And yet it’s mass shootings that the media covers 24/7 and tens of thousands march against.

Reading the entire article, I distill the claim to be

An America without illegal immigrants would have far fewer murders than an America without mass shootings

Please note, this is my interpretation of what the article is really saying; but this is the specific claim I want to check.

Sources from the claim

The article claims there are 1135 mass shooting deaths since 1966, uncited. I can also find this identical number from the Washington Post (accessed 1/10/19). This is about 22 homicides per year since 1966. Alternately, in 2017 and 2018, the same WaPo site lists 185 shooting deaths in 16 incidents, so you could use the higher recent rate of mass shootings deaths.

For the criminal alien homicides, the article quotes Fox News:

Now, in the past two years alone, criminal aliens have been responsible for approximately -- look at this number -- 235,000 violations of the law, including 4,000 homicides, 30,000 sex crimes and -- get this -- over 100,000 violent assaults.

While uncited, I believe the homicide numbers come from these 2017 and 2018 reports from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These reports show that the persons arrested by ICE in 2017 were collectively charged 355 times and convicted 1531 times of homicide, presumably for all time prior to the report. The 2018 numbers were 387 charges and 1641 convictions of homicide. Sum all four of these numbers, and we get 3914; which is where I believe the 4000 figure from Fox New and the original claim comes from.

The claim's misinterpretation of source

However, this number is not a valid comparison to the number of mass shooting deaths. First, these murders occur over a period of more than the two years covered. Second, there is this note within the 2017 report saying:

The criminality displayed includes all criminal charges and convictions for FY2017 ERO administrative arrests entered into ICE’s system of record at the time of the data run. An alien may have more than one criminal charge or criminal conviction in a fiscal year, and all relevant charges and convictions for each arrest are included. As such, the total number of criminal charges and convictions is greater than the total number of aliens administratively arrested.

Some murders charges and convictions are double counted (or more). Given this, it seems obvious that someone subject to ICE administrative enforcement action in both 2017 and 2018 would also be double counted. So, if all illegal immigrants did not exist in 2017 and 2018, the number of prevented murders in that time period would be significantly less than 4000.


Is there some other way to compare the average number of mass shooting deaths per year to the number of murders committed by illegal immigrants per year? Do illegal immigrants commit more murders per year than mass shooters?

  • 6
    Seems like something of an apples and oranges comparison, since border locations have less than the general rates of homicides that are found, at large, throughout the United States. To draw some parallel between that and preventing mass shootings in schools (the commonly cited example) where, generally, the expected murder rate should be about zero, seems to be an exercise in unprovable and unfalsifiable equivalence. Not a criticism of the question, just not sure how one can evaluate this argument which must be on the talking heads talking points list right now. Jan 10, 2019 at 19:08
  • 4
    What you need to compare to get a good answer here is not the totals or even the total convictions. You need to look at the homicide rate for the complete groups: the whole US population; the legal immigrants and the illegal immigrants. And you could argue that disgruntled white Americans are a dangerous group as they commit most of the mass shootings.
    – matt_black
    Jan 10, 2019 at 19:09
  • @matt_black I don't think rate statistics are relevant to this specific claim. The public perception of danger is more strongly linked to the number of fatalities than the fatality rate; e.g. air travel vs car travel. I'd like to know about the total number of murders committed by illegal immigrants vs mass shooters.
    – kingledion
    Jan 10, 2019 at 19:16
  • 2
    But you're not asking about vague and possibly incorrect perceptions, you are asking if something is more effective than something else. That should call for a more empirical assessment, I'd think. Jan 10, 2019 at 19:35
  • 2
    @kingledion You do need to worry about rates if you want to get anything other than an arbitrary and irrelevant answer. If the real question is "would America be safer from homicide if it didn't have any illegal immigrants" it is the only way to answer the question. If the question is "do illegal immigrants kill more than the emissions from coal power stations" then who cares as the comparison is foolish to start with. To beat an incorrect perception, you have to show the right comparison.
    – matt_black
    Jan 10, 2019 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Do illegal immigrants commit more murders per year than mass shooters?


Mass shootings are a very tiny proportion of overall homicides. In 2017 there were 17,284 reported homicides and non-negligent manslaughter cases in the USA. Of these 437 (2.5%) were in "mass shootings", defined as 4 or more individuals wounded or killed in the same general time and place. The original claim also adds in all sex crimes and human trafficking crimes. Solid numbers for these crimes are much harder to determine, but whatever number you use it is going to be large.

(Side note: the article repeatedly alleges that the "Establishment Media" concentrates on mass shootings due to some nefarious plot to hide the reality. A much more plausible reason is the same as the reason that the media reports airplane crashes much more prominently than traffic accidents: single incidents with lots of casualties are much more newsworthy than routine deaths, even when the routine incidents kill many more people)

Studies have consistently found that illegal aliens are less likely to commit crime because they want to keep a low profile. Also any who do commit a serious crime are usually deported, so repeat offenders are much rarer.

The following chart from the Washington Post is based on data from the Cato Institute. See the latter for detailed analysis.

Chart showing criminal conviction rates in Texas

If there were about 3 homicides committed per 100,000 undocumented immigrants, and there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA, then that would be about 330 homicides across the USA (Texas is pretty close to the US median homicide rate, so the extrapolation is reasonable).

Sean Hannity in the Fox News article claims that this is 4,000 per year. He doesn't say where he got this number from, but he has form for inventing statistics about immigrant crime.

However there is a problem here: the number killed in "mass shootings" is known. The number of people killed by undocumented immigrants is calculated from convictions. Not every murder leads to a conviction, so the number of people actually killed by undocumented immigrants needs to be multiplied by the clear-up and conviction rates for homicide. In the USA these are low: over the past 10 years in cities the Washington Post found that the "clear up rate" (i.e. a suspect was arrested) in US cities is around 50% (presumably it would be higher for rural areas). Assuming that the clear-up rate is the same for homicides committed by undocumented immigrants and that the conviction rate is 100% that would be around 660 homicides per year, which exceeds the number killed in mass shootings.

So the implied claim that you quoted is probably true, although the error bars are pretty large.

The broader implied claim in the article, that immigration leads to crime, is definitely not supported by the facts. If there were no illegal immigrants in the US (i.e. 11 million fewer people) then of course the total number of crimes would fall because there would be fewer people to commit them. But the evidence suggests that the homicide rate per million inhabitants would actually rise slightly.

  • 1
    Business Insider isn’t a very reliable news outlet. Also, wouldn’t the threat of deportation be more of a deterrent against committing a minor crime (eg marujuana or theft) rather than committing a major crime such as murder?
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 10, 2019 at 21:30
  • 2
    @AndrewGrimm Normally I'd agree, but the article I referenced had a number of solid academic references to back up its statements. Jan 10, 2019 at 22:20
  • 6
    Another point--people, and therefore the media, focus much more on the death of innocents than criminals--and ordinary murders are generally of other criminals and thus not of much news value. Jan 11, 2019 at 6:08
  • 1
    @LorenPechtel: "ordinary murders are generally of other criminals" -- Are they?
    – DevSolar
    Jan 11, 2019 at 7:29
  • @kingledion Answer expanded to address the question. Jan 11, 2019 at 14:44

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