Posted on May 8, 2024

Migrant Arrests Are Up

Joe Mahr et al., Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2024

As 40,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago in less than two years, a Tribune analysis of crime data shows the impact of migrants has been mostly felt in nonviolent offenses, particularly driving-related and thefts, and few arrests for violent felonies.

The analysis of crimes since Aug. 31, 2022, when Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, began busing asylum-seekers to Chicago, shows that as more migrants have arrived, the number of their arrests has increased. But they’re typically picked up for traffic infractions and thefts, and any misdeeds they’re committing do not appear to have fueled a crime wave.


“It’s certainly not a violent crime wave,” said Graham Ousey, a criminologist at William & Mary in Virginia. “It is the impact of people who are deprived of resources.”

Still, tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have descended upon Chicago with an immediate need for shelter and services. In response, the city has rapidly turned abandoned buildings and park field houses into makeshift shelters to accommodate them — often without much notice and as a surprise to the neighborhoods they’re in.


Immigration advocates have argued it’s a new chapter in a centuries-old playbook by politicians to demonize newcomers, from the Irish to Mexicans. But a rise in any crime — even petty — near city-run shelters can frustrate residents and business owners who bear the brunt of what crowds of migrants without jobs or money can bring.

“We’re simply not enforcing quality-of-life laws around our shelters,” said Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, whose Southwest Side ward included a shelter for single adults in the Gage Park field house until the city closed it earlier this month. “Politically, we have an environment that is making excuses for those low-level offenses as something that should be forgiven or ignored without realizing that it has a very real snowball effect in our neighborhoods.”

Despite research showing immigrants have long been less likely to commit crime than native-born residents, Lopez still questioned whether the city’s crime data could accurately reflect the true story of migrant crime. He said residents in his ward are already disenchanted with police and rarely call to report problems, no matter who is causing them.

To be sure, the Tribune analysis has limitations beyond how often crime goes unreported. For example, Chicago police don’t track arrests of asylum-seekers, but rather arrestees’ country of birth. Even then, that’s not listed for 1 in 7 arrests.

The analysis focused on native Venezuelans, who make up more than 80% of migrant arrivals whose birth countries were logged by the city, and whose Chicago census population was relatively small before 2022. Still, that means the figures could include arrests of native Venezuelans here before busing and miss arrests of migrants born elsewhere.

Another key limitation: The analysis does not attempt to compute rates of arrest — or the number of arrests divided by the population. Criminologists caution that rate comparisons can be difficult among migrants and other groups because of unique demographic differences. Regardless, it’s difficult to get a precise estimate of native Venezuelans living in Chicago, a far more transient group than others.


Since the first buses arrived from Texas, through the end of March 2024, not one person born in Venezuela has been arrested on a murder charge, according to the analysis. In that same stretch of time, Chicago police charged with murder 247 adults for whom police listed a birth country. That included at least one person each born in Poland, Vietnam and Germany, and at least two people born in Mississippi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, arrests of native Venezuelans have spiked as their population in Chicago has grown. In the first three months of 2024, police made more than 1,000 arrests of native Venezuelans — about 1 of 9 of all arrests in that period in which police listed someone’s birth country.

But most native Venezuelans were arrested for driving-related infractions in what has become a Catch-22 the Tribune documented in March: Many migrants want jobs but can’t get work permits. So to travel to bosses still willing to hire them, some migrants buy cars, even though they can’t get a driver’s license. They say they risk it, hoping they don’t get pulled over.

In Chicago, in the 19 months since busing began, roughly two dozen native Venezuelans were arrested for driving without a license and causing a crash, the Tribune analysis found. In that same timeframe, the data shows nearly 200 American-born drivers were arrested in Chicago for driving without valid licenses and causing crashes.

Unlicensed drivers, of course, can create dangers on the roads. And unlicensed asylum-seekers — even if a fraction of the problem — only increase the risk, something Eugene Perosko can describe firsthand.

Court and police records show Perosko was just across the Chicago city line, in Calumet Park, when his 16-year-old Toyota Prius was broadsided by a native Venezuelan driver with no license or insurance. Peroski told the Tribune that his liability insurance doesn’t cover his injuries or car damages. So he said he’s out thousands of dollars in repair bills, medical costs and lost wages — and furious that unlicensed migrants continue to drive with what amounts to “a 3,000-pound weapon.”

“You’re actually endangering the public safety,” he said.

Perosko’s crash occurred in the suburb of Calumet Park, so it isn’t included in the Tribune’s data.

When looking at violent crimes in Chicago, arrest figures for native Venezuelans narrow further. In the 19-month span, there were 21 arrests of native Venezuelans for felonies involving violence. Most of those involved allegations of violence against other migrants or police officers coming to arrest them, but there were higher-profile cases, including the March 20 arrest of Elvis J. Hernandez-Pernalete, 28.

In a court filing, prosecutors say he grabbed, choked, sexually assaulted and robbed a woman he followed off a CTA train at the UIC-Halsted stop. That alleged assault came hours after he grabbed and forced another woman to the ground from the CTA’s Irving Park stop before he was chased off by a witness, according to the filing. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.


While much of the attention has focused on claims of violence, the Tribune analysis found a much higher than typical share of native Venezuelans’ arrests were for alleged thefts, particularly shoplifting or walking off without paying a tab.

The analysis found the biggest effect was seen around downtown, the heart of city retail shopping. In the past 19 months, for Loop theft arrests in which police listed the suspect’s birth country, roughly 1 in 5 were born in Venezuela.