PolitiFact: Are one-third of federal prisoners illegal immigrants?

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2017, 11:57 AM EST

During the 2016 election cycle, many campaigns focused on immigration issues, and some candidates called for deporting of illegal immigrants, especially if they had been convicted of a crime.  That idea was embraced by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, and was promoted by fellow Republicans around the country.

During a speech to the Texas Republican delegation, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) spoke about the issue, why it was important, and how supporting Donald Trump would bring change for the better.  Lamar said the following:

"One third of all federal prisoners are illegal immigrants."

Our partners at PolitiFact decided to see if Smith's statement was accurate.  PolitiFact reporter Joshua Gillin says that Smith's claim rates MOSTLY FALSE on the Truth-O-Meter.  Gillin says that it all boils down to numbers, and how they were presented.

"Lamar Smith took numbers from 2014 that were showing that 37 percent of the inmates sentenced for drug crimes actually had a different citizenship status," said Gillin.  "That's different than looking at the entire federal prison population and seeing how many of those prisoners are not U.S. citizens."

Gillin notes that, while, Smith's statistic is part of the overall picture, the numbers that encompass all prisoners are decidedly different.  "We looked at the statistics, and as of mid-2016, the percentage of illegal immigrants in federal prisons is closer to 22 percent," said Gillin.  "You also have to keep in mind that the figure includes immigrants who crossed the border and were immediately picked up, and did not have had a chance to set up in a city and possibly commit crimes, as seems to be implied in the statement."

Gillin says that Smith had a statistic that was legitimate based on what it was measuring, but he used it in an all-encompassing way, which leads to his claim being rated MOSTLY FALSE on PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter.


SOURCES: One-third of prisoners illegal immigrants?