July 14, 2015


Not here to cause trouble (The Economist, Jul 10th 2015)

America's major cities, and the country as a whole, have seen a significant decline in rates of violent and property crime over the past 30 or so years. Crime has fallen even as the proportion of Americans born on foreign soil has grown, and as rates of unauthorised immigration have gone up, as illustrated by these graphs from the Immigration Policy Center.

This is not to say that rising immigration caused crime to go down, though some criminologists think the two trends are related. No one knows for sure what combination of factors led to America's happy slide in crime rates. But there is little indication that the surge in immigration from the 1990s to the late 2000s, largely from Mexico and Central America, contributed to an increase, or retarded the decrease, in crime. According to Jörg Spenkuch, an economist at Northwestern University, increased immigration may have been associated with a barely statistically significant uptick in property crime, but crunching the numbers turns up "essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime".

Indeed, Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, has found that "increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates in the late '90s and up to 2006." An eight-year study of violence in Chicago led Mr Sampson to conclude that Mexican immigrants are less prone to violence than native-born Americans, whites or black, of comparable age and socio-economic status. In recent years, El Paso, Texas has had the lowest murder rate of any American city with a population of 500,000 or more, despite sitting directly across the Rio Grande from Juarez, a Mexican city plagued with horrific gang violence. Other metropolitan magnets for new arrivals from south of the border, such as San Diego, San Antonio and Phoenix, are similarly pacific. "Cities of concentrated immigration are some of the safest places around," Mr Sampson observes.

These patterns are reflected, as one would expect, in data on incarceration rates. White men born in America are twice as likely to end up in prison as men born abroad, while American-born black men are many times more likely to land in jail than their immigrant counterparts. As a general matter, individuals with less education are more likely to get locked up. Nevertheless, immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, who tend to be relatively unschooled, are put behind bars at lower rates than white Americans who didn't make it to graduation. In fact, American white guys with high-school diplomas are more likely to get tossed in the can than Guatemalan or Honduran fellows without them.

Posted by at July 14, 2015 2:56 PM

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