Responding to the New York Times’ attack on our work on crime by Illegal Aliens

23 Feb , 2018  

The New York Times on Sunday, February 18th, 2018 had an editorial attacking Dr. John Lott’s research on crime by illegal aliens.

Perhaps the most insidious part of the Trump administration’s approach to criminal justice lies in its efforts to link crime to its broader crackdown on immigration. In a speech last month, Mr. Sessions said undocumented immigrants are far more likely than American citizens to commit crimes, a claim he found in a paper by John Lott, the disreputable economist best known for misusing statistics to suit his own ideological ends. In this case, it appears Mr. Lott misread his own data, which came from Arizona and in fact showed the opposite of what he claimed: Undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than citizens, as the vast majority of research on the topic has found.

The New York Times published this letter by Lott on Friday, February 23rd (link here).

To the Editor:

The Undoing of Justice Reform” (editorial, Feb. 18) claims that I misread my data on incarcerations in Arizona. If it had linked to my research, readers would see that the data show that legal and illegal immigrants as a whole have a much larger share of the Arizona prison population than they do of the state population. If illegal immigrants constituted only a small part of that, then legal immigrants’ share of incarcerations would be twice their share of the overall population.

These are reliable classifications based on pre-sentencing reports.


The writer is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.

The original letter that we sent in was 199 words.  What they published was 91 words long.  Here is what we originally sent in.

Dear Letters Editor:

The Times claims that I “misread” my data on incarcerations in Arizona (“Donald Trump and the Undoing of Justice Reform,” 2/18).  The editorial board links to attacks on me but not to my original research or my responses to attacks you cite.  You just dismiss me as “disreputable.”

If you had provided links, readers would see the data show legal and illegal immigrants as a whole have a much larger share of the Arizona prison system than they do of the state population.  The issue is the relative shares of legal and illegal immigrants.  If you really believe that there are fewer illegal immigrants in jail, there would have to be more incarcerated legal immigrants.  With your estimates, legal immigrants share of incarcerations would be twice their share of the population.

You are wrong about me misreading my data in terms of how the citizenship of prisoners is determined.   My numbers on illegal immigrants do not include legal immigrants. Those classifications are based on the pre-sentencing report, and legal immigrants were not classified as deportable until after they have been sentenced.

The research you cite is flawed. It depends on illegals self-reporting their criminal histories and citizenship status.


John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D.
Crime Prevention Research Center



1 Response

  1. Isn’t it interesting how they’ll publish personal attacks on your character but not your refutations of their personal attacks on your character?

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