Getting The Facts Straight On Prisoners and Immigration

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U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wrongly says that “28 percent of the inmates in our federal penitentiaries” are immigrants in the U.S. illegally, reports About 21 percent of federal inmates are non-U.S. citizens, but that includes immigrants who came to the United States both legally and illegally, according to government data. King mentions just federal prisons, but most inmates are incarcerated in state prisons. And only 4 percent of state and federal inmates combined are non-citizens. In a CNN interview, King used the term “criminal aliens,” saying that those “criminal aliens” had already “committed the crime of unlawful entry.” The term, as used by the federal government, refers to all non-citizens who have been convicted of crimes.

King appeared on CNN’s “New Day” March 28. Most non-citizens aren’t in federal prison for the violent crimes, like murder and rape, that King mentioned in the interview. As of March 25, an immigration violation, such as unlawful re-entry into the U.S., was the most serious offense for 13,603, or 34 percent, of the 39,555 non-citizens in federal prison, according to BOP data. That was second only to the 44 percent of non-citizens in prison for drug-related offenses. Around 1 percent of non-citizen inmates were imprisoned for homicide or aggravated assault, and another 1 percent were convicted of sex offenses. Last month, the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocating criminal justice reform, said that “non-citizens are increasingly over-represented in federal sentencing and incarceration due to a rise in prison sentences for immigration offenses.”

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