Rep. Steve King Misrepresents Report On "Criminal Aliens"

April 22, 2011 11:00 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Yesterday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) issued a press release in response to a recent Government Accountability Office report on the costs posed by "criminal aliens" in the United States. In the statement, King emphasized the rising number of "criminal aliens" — defined as "noncitizens who are residing in the United States legally or illegally and are convicted of a crime" — in federal and state prisons. From the release:

Since 2005, the number of criminal aliens in federal prisons has increased 7% with 54,718 criminal aliens incarcerated in 2009.

Since 2005, the number of SCAAP [State Criminal Alien Assistance Program] criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails has increased 34%. 295,959 SCAAP criminal aliens were incarcerated in 2009.

Out of context, however, King's statistics are virtually meaningless. While the total number of noncitizens incarcerated in federal prison has increased by roughly 7 percent since 2005, that rise is proportionally smaller than the overall growth of the inmate population. Indeed, since 2005, the percentage of federal inmates who are "criminal aliens" has actually declined slightly from 26.9 percent to 25.4 percent.

King's claim that the number of SCAAP "criminal aliens" in state and local facilities has increased by 34 percent is similary misleading. In fact, the number of such individuals as a percentage of all inmates under state authority grew by only 0.4 points* from 2005 to 2009. If King wants to throw around statistics, here's one that might help explain his motives: In an 800-word press release, the virulently anti-immigrant congressman used the phrase "criminal alien" 32 times.  

*calculated using number of State SCAAP Criminal Alien Incarcerations from the GAO report (see Figure 3) and total prisoners under the jurisdiction of state correction authorities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (see Table 1)