January 1, 2006


Good waves: If there's a link between urban crime and immigration, sociologists say, it's probably not what you think (Drake Bennett, January 1, 2006, Boston Globe)

Skepticism about a link between increased crime and immigration isn't entirely new. Working in the 1920s and '30s, at the end of the country's last great wave of immigration, criminology pioneers Edwin Sutherland and Thorsten Sellin found that immigrants had lower crime rates than both native-born Americans and second-generation immigrants. It was American culture, Sutherland and Sellin concluded, that caused crime, and the less exposure to it one had the less likely one was to be a criminal.

Published earlier this year, the study led by Harvard's Sampson echoed these earlier surveys. Sampson and his colleagues followed a diverse group of nearly 3,000 Chicago youths from 1995 to 2002, and found that immigrant kids were less likely than peers of similar socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in everything from gang fights to arson to purse snatchings. Not only that, but even nonimmigrant kids who happened to live in immigrant neighborhoods were less likely than otherwise to be involved in violence.

Part of the explanation for this, Sampson says, is that immigrant families, while often poor, are more likely than other poor families to have stable, two-parent households, one factor widely understood to decrease the odds of violent activity.

But that didn't explain everything. In Sampson's study, simply being a first-generation immigrant, no matter what one's parents' marital status or one's education level, made one less likely to end up committing a violent crime. And while the immigrants in Sampson's sample were predominantly Latino, the trend also held for the African and Caribbean immigrants he followed.

Sampson and others can only hypothesize as to why. ''New immigrants," suggests John Hagan, a sociologist at Northwestern University, ''tend to be a self-selected group who are highly ambitious, energetic, innovative." Immigrants, it's been repeatedly found, are significantly more likely than their nonimmigrant neighbors to have jobs. Hagan suggests that they're also less likely to be interested in something as possibly ruinous as crime.

Ramiro Martinez, a sociologist at Florida International University, has come to similar conclusions by studying homicide rates among Latino and immigrant communities in Miami, El Paso, San Antonio, San Diego, Chicago, and other cities. In each, he has found immigrants heavily underrepresented-especially considering their socioeconomic status-among convicted murderers. Andrew Karmen of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has found analogous results for New York state.

In fact, Martinez points out, some of America's best-known border towns have the country's lowest murder rates. ''San Diego, for example-a place that captures the public imagination with all this concern about losing the borders to Mexico-has one of the lowest homicide rates for any major American urban area in the United States." El Paso, another city seen as bearing the brunt of the swelling ranks of illegal immigrants, regularly ranks among the country's safest cities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 1, 2006 9:37 AM

New immigrants are also subject to punishment that does not fit the crime. Illegals can be deported if they come to the attention of the government for any crime and legal immigrants can be deported if they commit certain felonies. In the face of such severe penalties, it's not wonder that they're less likely to get started than native kids.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 1, 2006 10:24 AM

What Sampson and Martinez have found is anything but counter-intuitive. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were "new Americans" once.

Welcome the additions to the folk.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 1, 2006 12:16 PM

So why do the majority of violent crimes reported on T.V. each night here in Phoenix involve criminals with Hispanic names? I guess I can't believe my lying eyes and ears.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2006 1:05 PM

So you're advocating we ship native born blacks back to Africa?

Hispanics have higher crime rates than whites but lower ones than blacks. So a low murder rate in El Paso, which is 73.28% white, but only 3.12% black isn't surprising. San Diego is 60.18% white and 7.86 black, white, but 13.65% of San Diego is asian, and asians have very low crime rates.

This study illustrates one of the concerns that those of us who wish to limit immigration have, which is: if immigrants are assimilating to an American way of life, what American way of life are they assimilating to? Respectable, middle class behavior, orr the Thug-Life culture that's presented to them via the popular culture and that they see around them (since normal middle class Americans don't set an example by living near them or send their children to school with them)? That second-generation immigrants have higher crime rates than first generation ones suggests the latter.




An overview:


Posted by: Carter at January 1, 2006 3:38 PM


Bingo. The problem is the culture here, not their own. We need to bring in enough immigrants to push past the tipping point so that their culture prevails.

Posted by: oj at January 1, 2006 4:01 PM

So immigration will change the culture of black Americans? I suspect it all it does is cause black Americans to relocate.

And what if the direction of immigration stays as it is now - the other way around (as even those dishonest researchers admit "immigrants had lower crime rates than...second-generation immigrants")? I thought as conservatives we believed in "Prudence as regards social change", I've never seen a pro-immigrationist explain what Plan B is if their grand experiment goes awry.

Posted by: Carter at January 1, 2006 4:35 PM

If we are going to say we should welcome hispanic culture to better America, we should embrace the South American version and oppose the Central American style.

Posted by: Vince at January 1, 2006 7:45 PM

You're only a criminal if you get caught.
Some people get caught more than others.
Some crimes are easier to find a guilty party for, than others.
The biggest, best, and most efffective criminals are the ones that aren't conventionally considered criminals; the ones that steal without it being considered theft; the ones that make the laws to break the laws; the ones the define what being a criminal truly is.

Posted by: Grog at January 2, 2006 4:25 AM

"The problem is the culture here, not their own. We need to bring in enough immigrants to push past the tipping point so that their culture prevails.
Come on oj. I have seen the effects of the corrupt, nepotistic culture in southern Colorado and New Mexico from hispanic influence. You wish to welcome third-world culture into our modern polity?

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2006 4:57 AM

Grog: But not many of those crimes are committed by immigrants, right?

Posted by: David Cohen at January 2, 2006 10:03 AM


They aren't more corrupt than Tom DeLay. We'll take corruption so long as it brings things we value.

Posted by: oj at January 2, 2006 10:09 AM

Oh, just to put a market down, the idea of the unwritten crime against society is a hallmark of the despotic left.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 2, 2006 10:35 AM

A "marker" down. I wanted to put a marker down.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 2, 2006 3:29 PM