Does the U.S. really harbor at least 2 million “criminal aliens” who were released by immigration authorities, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed in a speech this week in Phoenix? The Washington Post fact-checked the assertion and concluded that the candidate used “fuzzy math” in simplifying complex federal data to make a point. Trump used the figure to argue his proposal for “zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” a phrase that refers to noncitizens convicted of a crime. Trump cites federal data, saying there are at least 2 million criminal aliens in the country. This number comes from a Department of Homeland Security fiscal 2013 report saying there were 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.”
But this figure refers to a broader population of non-U.S. citizens with criminal convictions. It includes undocumented immigrants and people who are lawful permanent residents, or those who have temporary visas. Lawfully present people in the United States who are convicted of serious crimes are subject to removal from the country. The exact number of illegally present non-citizens within that 1.9 million figure is not clear. Calculations by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that doesn’t take positions on immigration legislation, show about 820,000 (43 percent) of the 1.9 million are unauthorized immigrants with criminal convictions. Immigration Customs Enforcement has estimated that 82,288 criminal aliens were released into non-custodial settings from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2015–and more than a third of those paid bond. One expert estimated that an additional 200,000 were released by ICE according to prosecutorial discretion guidelines. An additional 18,646 “deportable aliens that ICE was seeking” were ignored by state and local law enforcement. That adds up to just over 300,000, far short of the “at least 2 million” claimed by Trump.