Fact check: Immigrants and crime


The anti-immigrant drumbeat that permeated the presidential campaign continues after the election, with Trump pledging to deport criminals. But wait a minute: are immigrants really a danger to the nation? The numbers show that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are actually less likely to commit crimes than citizens.

Back in 2005, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago documented extensive research on immigration and crime. They found that:

“Despite the widespread perception of a link between immigration and crime, immigrants have much lower institutionalization (incarceration) rates than the native born. More recently arrived immigrants have the lowest comparative incarceration rates, and this difference increased from 1980 to 2000.”

Why? Is this due to deportation of criminals? Not really.

“Our evidence suggests that deportation and deterrence of immigrants’ crime commission from the threat of deportation are not driving the results. Rather, immigrants appear to be self-selected to have low criminal propensities and this has increased over time.”

[Click on the link to download and read the entire 69-page report.]

While immigrants are less likely to commit crimes against property or people, they are more likely to be incarcerated in the federal system. Why? Because the federal system includes all immigrants who are jailed and awaiting hearings on deportation or asylum or other immigration-related issues.

While the Federal Reserve report is more than ten years old, the low crime rate of immigrants continues. A 2015 report from the American Immigration Council concluded:

“For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not ‘criminals’ by any commonly accepted definition of the term.”

Want more studies? The New Yorker assembled some:

“According to Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard and the former scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, communities with high concentrations of immigrants do not suffer from outsized levels of violence. The opposite is the case. In his exhaustively researched 2012 book, ‘Great American City,’ Sampson noted that, in Chicago, ‘increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates.’ Other scholars have turned up similar findings. In 2013, a team of researchers published a paper on Los Angeles that found that ‘concentrations of immigrants in neighborhoods are linked to significant reductions in crime.’ A 2014 study examining a hundred and fifty-seven metropolitan areas in the United States found that violent crime tended to decrease when the population of foreign-born residents rose.”

“Rapists and criminals?” No. That’s a lie.

Of course, some individual in any population subset are criminals. The point is that study after study shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than non-immigrants.

As sociology prof Bianca Bersani and criminology prof Alex Piquero wrote in an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times:

“We know that many immigrants uphold cultural traditions that prioritize the family over the individual; there’s also emerging research showing that immigrants have a stronger faith in the legitimacy of the criminal justice system than many Americans of long-standing. Perhaps these beliefs, and the people who hold them, are worth embracing.”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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