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head: THE EFFECT OF IMMIGRATION ON VIOLENT CRIME RATES 1

The Effect of Immigration on Violent Crime Rates

Steven Shea

University of San Diego


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Heather Mac Donald of the City Journal wrote, Some of the most violent criminals at

large today are illegal aliens (2004). Donald Trump states, in part, as his position on

immigration, The impact in terms of crime has been tragic (n.d.). In a 2006 address, President

George W. Bush stated, Illegal immigration brings crime to our communities" (Rumbaut,

Gonzales, Komaie, & Morgan, 2006). These statements, along with additional statements, tend

to set society against immigrants and further a stereotype that immigration increases violent

crime. The speakers cite individual cases of criminal acts, but do not include scholarly research

to support their positions.

The concept that crime increases with immigration has been studied for over a century.

The Dillingham Immigration Commission of 1911 concluded, No satisfactory evidence has yet

been produced to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate

to the increase in adult population. Such comparable statistics of crime and population as it has

been possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are

native Americans (Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbaut, 2015).

Graham Ousey and Charis Kubrin looked at the issue of crime and immigration in a

larger scope over a longer period of time, 1980 to 2000 (2009). After extensive research, Ousey

and Kubrin determined that, contrary to popular opinion, much of the existing research

indicates that persons born in the United States are more likely to engage in crime than foreign

born immigrants (2009). In fact, Ousey and Kubrin determined that, immigration has a

significant negative association with with-in city change in violent crime (2009).
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According to the American Immigration Council, the percentage of foreign-born persons

in the United States grew from 7.9% in 1990 to 13.1% in 2013, a 65% increase (Ewing et al.,

2015). During the same period of time, the violent crime rate in the United States dropped 48%

and the property crime rate dropped 41% (Ewing et al., 2015). Violent crime includes

aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder while property crime includes vehicle theft,

larceny, and burglary. During a 2010 American Community Survey, 3.3% of native-born males

between the ages of 18 and 39 were incarcerated while only 1.6% of foreign born males in the

same age group were incarcerated (Ewing et al., 2015). Comparing census data for 1980, 1990,

and 2000 shows incarceration rates for native-born persons to be two to five times higher than

foreign born (Ewing et al., 2015).

Even when accounting for poor education, incarceration rates for the foreign born are

less than that of the native-born (Ewing et al., 2015). The incarceration rate for young native-

born men who have no high school diploma is 10.7% (Ewing et al., 2015). Young, less educated

Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men, who comprise the bulk of the illegal immigrants in

the U.S., are incarcerated at a rate of 2.8% for Mexican men and 1.7% for Salvadoran and

Guatemalan men (Ewing et al., 2015).

With political candidates and the media prolonging the stereotype that immigrants

engage in crime, one might ask how it is that immigrants are not involved in crime. Michael

Torny, law professor and public policy expert posited, First generation economic immigrants

are self-selected risk takers who leave their homes, families, and languages to move to a new
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country to improve their and their childrens lives. They have good reasons to work hard, defer

gratifications, and stay out of trouble (Ewing et al. 2015).

Ousey and Kubrin found a positive correlation between crime and family stability (2009).

Previous research has shown that families of divorce and families headed by a single parent

incur a higher rate of crime (2009). Ousey and Kubrin determined that immigration is

negatively associated with divorce and single parent households (2009). Therefore, immigrant

families, those with at least one parent who was foreign born, tend to be more stable than

native-born families and have less involvement in crime (Ousey & Kubrin, 2009).

Clearly, many studies over the years have concluded that immigration has a negative

influence on crime. Some pundits continue to point to individual examples of crime while

ignoring the overall picture of immigration. Some will point to illegal immigration in and of

itself being a crime and, therefore, all illegal immigrants are criminals. In reality, a first-time

offense for illegally crossing the border, barring other potential crimes such as smuggling, is a

misdemeanor punishable by fine and up to six months in jail (US Code, 2011). A subsequent

illegal crossing can lead to a sentence of up to two years (US Code, 2011). Engaging in assisting

people illegally cross the border for money can net a sentence of up to five years in prison (US

Code, 2011). Finally, committing marriage fraud to allow someone to stay in the United States

is punishable by up to five years in prison (US Code, 2011). In summary, a person who is caught

for a first offense of illegally crossing the border, without any other criminal act, can only be

charged with a misdemeanor (US Code, 2011).


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While stereotypes will continue, and politicians will continue to exploit them, many in

the United States simply believe that immigration brings more crime to their cities, even as the

crime rate drops year after year. A multitude of examinations by various scholars over more

than a century have proven that immigrants, legal and illegal, are less likely to be involved in

criminal activity. A single person committing a heinous murder or a gang engaging in drug

trafficking makes for a sensational headline or sound bite, but the overwhelming evidence

indicates those examples present the exception to the rule.


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REFERENCES

Ewing, W., Martinez, D., & Rumbaut, R. (2015, July 8) The Criminalization of Immigration in the

United States. American Immigration Council. Retrieved from

http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/the_criminalization_of_imm

igration_in_the_united_states_final.pdf

Mac Donald, H. (2004, Winter) The illegal-alien crime wave. City Journal. Retrieved from

http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_1_the_illegal_alien.html

Ousey, G. & Kubrin, C. (2009, August 1) Exploring the connection between immigration and

violent crime rates in U.S. Cities, 1980-2000. The Oxford University Press. Retrieved

from https://ole.sandiego.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-642060-dt-content-rid-

2388214_1/courses/LEPSL-500-MASTER/Ousey-

Immigration_and_Violent_Crime_Rates.pdf

Rumbaut, R., Gonzales, R., Komaie, G, & Morgan, C. (2006, June 1) Debunking the myth of

immigrant criminality: Imprisonment among first- and second-generation young men.

Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/debunking-myth-immigrant-criminality-

imprisonment-among-first-and-second-generation-young/

Trump, D. (n.d.) Positions: Immigration reform that will make America great again. Retrieved

from https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform

US Code (2011) Title 8-Aliens and Nationality 1325. Improper entry by alien. Retrieved from

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title8/pdf/USCODE-2011-title8-chap12-

subchapII-partVIII-sec1325.pdf