What the Studies Say on Immigration and Crime

A common perception going back into the 1800’s is that immigrants bring criminal behaviors with them into the country.

Much of the positioning and politicking about immigration focuses on crime and fears that immigration brings crime into the country. Donald Trump famously said of Mexican immigrants, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” (Remarks from the speech by Donald Trump when announced his run for the Republican nomination for president at Trump Tower Atrium in Manhattan on June 16, 2015)

Crime is obviously a very big societal concern, and one we shouldn’t take lightly. Most Americans are in agreement on that point. Protecting law abiding citizens from criminal behaviors is a top priority, one that often justifies using a significant percentage of local tax dollars in support of law enforcement. If immigration increases crime in our communities, tightening up the immigration laws makes sense from the standpoint of protecting citizens from crime. But does it?

Does immigration increase the crime rate in our communities? Are immigrants more likely to commit crimes than citizens?

I wasn’t at all sure what the studies show so I set out to determine for myself the answer to the questions. These are important questions because our immigration policies should be informed by the facts. As Christians, especially, we should be guided by truth.

In fact, the common perception going back into the 1800’s is that immigrants bring criminal behaviors with them into the country and should be carefully controlled, vetted and limited in numbers. This isn’t a new perception, but it turns out to be as misguided and uninformed today as it was 100 years ago. As I looked for studies, I found that they are legion, and they go back many decades.

The National Academies Press publication, Sociocultural Dimensions of Immigrant Integration, states “Americans have long believed that immigrants are more likely than natives to commit crimes and that rising immigration leads to rising crime (Kubrin, 2014Gallagher, 2014Martinez and Lee, 2000). This belief is remarkably resilient to the contrary evidence that immigrants are in fact much less likely than natives to commit crimes.” And, “Immigrants are in fact much less likely to commit crime than natives, and the presence of large numbers of immigrants seems to lower crime rates.” Citing to many studies over many years, one researcher concludes, “’. . . the major finding of a century of research on immigration and crime is that immigrants . . . nearly always exhibit lower crime rates than native groups.’”

Why do our perceptions that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes persist when the evidence does not support that position, and never has? I don’t have a ready answer, but I suspect that it has something to do with unfounded, but very visceral fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. This is also the roots of racial prejudice and bias.

The studies I reviewed are not a bunch of liberal, progressive mush, as a nearly lifelong conservative might suppose. The libertarian Cato Institute Study published results in February of 2018. I understand the study was funded by the Koch brothers,, but I haven’t fact-checked yet. The study used information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for immigrants aged 18 to 54 who are incarcerated in the United States. It examines criminal conviction data for 2015 provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The study was recently cited in the Washington Post article, Two charts demolish the notion that immigrants here illegally commit more crime, by Christopher Ingraham, June 19, 2018. Ingraham cites the author of the published results as follows: “As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015…. The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate.”

Those are pretty startling numbers for the fact that they run completely counter to the common perception, but they don’t just run counter the the current administration narrative; they blow it out of the water. But maybe it’s just one study with skewed facts and findings.

We, think again. a more recent study described in the Criminology journal, Does Undocumented Immigration Increase Violent Crime?, by Michael T. Light, March 25, 2018, looked at criminal, socioeconomic, and demographic information in all 50 states and Washington, DC, from 1990 to 2014, and reached a similar conclusion: “The results from fixed‐effects regression models reveal that undocumented immigration does not increase violence. Rather, the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative….”

And then there are the studies reported in Politifact California, MOSTLY TRUE: Undocumented immigrants less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens, by Chris Nicholas, August 3, 2017. they indicate that, “for Mexican men ages 18 to 39, the incarceration rate in 2010 was 2.8 percent, compared to 10.7 percent for native-born men in the same age group”, citing a July 2015 report by the American Immigration Council. “Bianca E. Bersani, an assistant professor and director of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, says her research also shows that crime involvement among foreign-born residents is lower than that of U.S.-born citizens. “’The rhetoric of the ‘criminal immigrant’ does not align with the bulk of empirical research,’ Bersani said.”

Another recent study reported in the Scientific American, Immigrants Do Not Increase Crime, Research Shows, by Charles, Kubrin, Graham C. Ousey, Lesley Reid and Robert Adelman, February 7, 2017, examined more than 50 studies published between 1994 and 2014, and concluded that “the most common finding was that immigration had no impact on crime”, but where studies showed a correlation between immigration and crime, “there were 2.5 times as many findings that showed immigration was actually correlated with less crime…. The upshot? We find no evidence to indicate that immigration leads to more crime and it may, in fact, suppress it.”

I didn’t go any further. I suppose I might be able to find one of those few studies that report different findings, but I have read enough to conclude that the weight of the evidence does not support the position that immigrants bring more crime with them. In fact, the reality is more than likely just the opposite.

When you think about it, this makes sense. When my children were growing up, I was always somewhat surprised to hear other children’s parents report that my children behaved well in their houses – much better than my children tended to behave home. When people are guests in other people’s house, they tend to show respect and restraint.

More than that, whether a person comes here legally or illegally, no one wants to risk arrest or the specter of deportation. There is a reason people leave their homelands and come to the United States. They usually don’t want to go back. That is motivation to be on their best behavior.

I think it is time to be honest about the facts and to ignore the charade that immigration leads to more crime. The facts simply don’t bear that out. I haven’t cited the studies that show that major cities with more immigration have less crime overall than major cities with less immigration. They exist if you want to search for them. I also haven’t cited the studies that show that the statistics are still true, even when we take into account the arrests for illegal immigration!

2 thoughts on “What the Studies Say on Immigration and Crime

Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.