National Data | Diversity Is Strength. It's Also Car Theft.
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Tuesday's wild car chase and gun battle between rival alien smuggling gangs on Interstate 101 near Phoenix—four dead, several injured, including passing motorists—conveniently occurred right when Mexico's President Vicente Fox was in Arizona "to discuss migration issues" i.e. negotiate America's piecemeal surrender to, in effect, the smugglers.

The gunfight also conveniently occurred just after the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) released statistics on car thefts in 2002. Immigrants regularly steal cars and trucks to transport illegal aliens into the country.

In fact, although needless to say the NICB didn't make this connection, immigrants and car theft correlate strongly. When we juxtapose the 30 most car-theft prone metropolitan areas car with their immigrant populations, the relationship is striking. In the U.S. as a whole, 11.1% of the population is foreign-born. But—


  • The top ten metro areas for car theft had populations that averaged 19.5% foreign born


  • The second ten metro areas for car theft were 16.1% foreign born


  • The third ten metro areas for car theft were 11.7% foreign born


For all 30 cities (averaging 15.8% immigrant) car thefts averaged 811.61 per 100,000 population. By comparison, car thefts for the U.S. as a whole (11.1% immigrant) averaged 432.1 per 100,000 population.

Nine of the top 10 auto theft cities in 2002 were either seaports or cities that lay close to the Mexican or Canadian borders, according to the NICB. And the one exception – Las Vegas – is home to a rapidly growing immigrant population.

Many stolen cars are exported and sold in Mexico or other countries.  Large scale operators put stolen autos on trucking containers or even on cargo ships within minutes after they are stolen.

Experts say auto theft is the second-most lucrative illegal activity in Mexico, after the drug trade. In third place: the smuggling of humans into the U.S.

Top car theft city in the U.S.: Guess!—Phoenix (14.1% immigrant). It had 1,238 vehicles stolen per 100,000 population.

The rate of theft is so high in Phoenix, with two reported missing every hour last year, that police officers have stopped taking reports in person. Victims are referred to an automated call line.

Miami, the only Eastern city among the top 10, had the largest immigrant population rate (40.2%) of the 30 cities we looked at. Last year, after Miami started using a gamma-ray device to screen cargo ships for concealed autos, its car theft ranking dropped from 2nd to 6th.

At the other extreme: Jackson, Mississippi, the least immigrant intensive of the top 30 (1.3%). It ranked 14th in the car theft rate league.

This correlation, of course, is not total. Many other factors influence car theft rates, including the demographics of the native-born population (Jackson is 46% black) and, obviously, the number of cars per capita.

But the evidence seems to confirm the raft of anecdotes: immigrants and car theft go together like a hose and (stolen) carriage.

[Number fans click here for underlying data.]

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.

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