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  • Article: Immigrants are Less Likely to be Criminals than the Native-Born. By Walter Ewing

    Immigrants are Less Likely to be Criminals than the Native-Born



    When it comes to understanding the relationship between immigration and crime, anecdotes are no substitute for evidence. And, as a new report from the American Immigration Council explains, the evidence has been clear for more than a century: high rates of immigration are associated with lower crime rates, and immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. 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.

    Consider the following data presented in the report:

    Higher Immigration is Associated with Lower Crime Rates

    • Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
    • During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.

    Immigrants are Less Likely than the Native-Born to Be Behind Bars

    • According to an original analysis of data from the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the authors of this report, roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born. This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.
    • The 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population are significantly lower than the incarceration rate among native-born young men without a high-school diploma. In 2010, less-educated native-born men age 18-39 had an incarceration rate of 10.7 percent—more than triple the 2.8 percent rate among foreign-born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7 percent rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men.

    Immigrants are Less Likely Than the Native-Born to Engage in Criminal Behavior

    • A variety of different studies using different methodologies have found that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent “antisocial” behaviors; that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to be repeat offenders among “high risk” adolescents; and that immigrant youth who were students in U.S. middle and high schools in the mid-1990s and are now young adults have among the lowest delinquency rates of all young people.

    In light of this evidence, it should come as no surprise that harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime. Unfortunately, many U.S. policymakers ignore the evidence and succumb to their fears and prejudices about what they imagine immigrants to be. As a result, far too many immigration policies are drafted on the basis of stereotypes rather than substance. These laws are criminalizing an ever broadening swath of the immigrant population by applying a double standard when it comes to the consequences for criminal behavior. Immigrants who experience even the slightest brush with the criminal justice system, such as being convicted of a misdemeanor, can find themselves subject to detention for an undetermined period, after which they are expelled from the country and barred from returning.

    Put differently, the federal government has for years been redefining what it means to be a “criminal alien,” using increasingly stringent definitions and standards of “criminality” that do not apply to U.S. citizens. Whole new classes of “felonies” have been created which apply only to immigrants, deportation has become a punishment for even minor offenses, and policies aimed at trying to end unauthorized immigration have been made more punitive rather than more rational and practical. In short, immigrants themselves are being criminalized.

    And yet, as the findings of this report make clear, the majority of deportations carried out in the United States each year do not actually target “criminals” in any meaningful sense of the word.

    Photo by Michael Righi.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    Walter Ewing Walter A. Ewing, Ph.D., is the Senior Researcher at the Immigration Policy Center. He has authored or co-authored 20 reports and opinion pieces for the IPC and has published articles in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Stanford Law and Policy Review, and Immigration Law Today. Before joining the IPC, he was an Immigration Policy Analyst at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Program Director of the National Citizenship Network at Immigration and Refugee Services of America. Mr. Ewing received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School in 1997 and his B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1987.

    Guillermo Cantor, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Analyst at the American Immigration Council, where he also leads the Council’s research efforts. He has authored numerous publications on immigration policy and immigrant integration and regularly appears in English- and Spanish-language media. He also currently teaches sociology of immigration at Georgetown University. Mr. Cantor holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Retired INS's Avatar
      Retired INS -
      I spent 39 years with immigration. I found that the crime rate of immigrants, both legal & illegal, varies depending on the region of the U.S. where the immigrants live, and the nationality of the immigrants. Donald Trump talks about Mexicans causing problems. I found that Mexicans were much more likely to be law abiding than immigrants from some African nations (such as Nigeria), and some Middle Eastern nations (such as Yemen). When I joined the INS in 1972 the INS was questioning every petition submitted for relatives in Yemen. This was still true when I retired in 2011. The public may not have been aware of the problems with these nationalities, but the police and FBI certainly were. Immigrants from Yemen ran small rural stores that couldn't have earned the amount of money they were sending back to Yemen. They were laundering money for other criminal immigrants. The problem was finding out where the money came from. At one time almost every police department in America had a bunko squad that focused on bank and credit card fraud committed by Nigerians. I could name other problem nationalities, but that is not the point. You cannot lump all immigrants into one group and draw conclusions.

      I also found that illegal aliens almost never register to vote. I investigated immigrant voter fraud and found that the total number was very small, and 99% of the cases of aliens voting were legal aliens who were told they could vote (they can in Chicago as long as there are no federal offices to be voted on). Usually the illegal voter was the wife of a U.S. citizen and the husband insisted she register. In these cases the female alien often registered as a republican.
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