March 2, 2017


The Mythical Link Between Immigrants and High Crime Rates (Mike Maciag, 3/02/17, Governing)

A large body of research, however, finds no link between immigration and high crime rates, with some studies suggesting places with more immigrants actually enjoy slightly lower crime rates. Still, critics often contend that illegal immigration leads to more crime as research has generally failed to distinguish such individuals from the vast majority of legal immigrants who've been vetted by authorities.

To shed light on this contention, Governing conducted an original analysis using recently released metro area population estimates from the Pew Research Center for "unauthorized immigrants" -- people who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas. The analysis not only found no link with violent crime, but indicated concentrations of unauthorized immigrants were associated with marginally lower violent crime rates. A statistically significant negative correlation was also shown for property crimes. For every 1 percentage-point increase in the unauthorized immigrant share of a metro area's population, average property crime rates dropped by 94 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Estimates of undocumented immigrants and average annual crime rates over a three-year period for 154 metro areas were analyzed in a regression model, controlling for a dozen socioeconomic variables. Pew's unauthorized immigrant population estimates are the first set of regional-level figures the center has published. Nationally, they suggest this demographic accounts for a quarter of foreign-born residents, or about 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population.

Our analysis of the Pew data, while limited to a narrow time period, mirrors findings of broader academic research dismissing a relationship between foreign-born residents, regardless of legal status, and higher crime rates.

"The literature is pretty clear," says Robert Adelman, an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. "Results are strong and stable across time and place."

A recent study Adelman co-authored in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice found increases in total foreign-born populations over time were associated with reductions in robberies, murder rates and all types of property crimes across metro areas. Some individual studies have reported contrary evidence, but they are in the minority. A forthcoming paper in The Annual Review of Criminology reviews more than 50 studies, finding that 2.5 times as many studies indicate a negative correlation between immigration and crime as those suggesting the opposite effect. Incarceration rates depict similar patterns, with an analysis by the advocacy group American Immigration Council reporting immigrant males ages 18 to 39 are incarcerated at roughly half the rate of native-born residents.

Despite decades of research casting doubt on any connection, emphasis on public safety risks that immigrants could pose remains a frequent talking point in the push to bolster immigration enforcement. 

Posted by at March 2, 2017 6:51 AM