As the immigration bill makes progress in the Senate, it faces claims that more immigrants means more crime. Some conservatives reacted to the Boston Marathon bombing by calling for a delay in immigration reform, for example, and a group of House Republicans have been pushing a report about undocumented workers facing arrests for criminal charges.
In a study published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, researchers Garth Davies and Jeffrey Fagan studied the link between immigration and crime in New York City. After controlling for factors like poverty and educational achievement, they found that immigration did not increase crime rates.
According to geographic data, actually, it appears that in New York, immigration may have even reduced crime, or at least correlated with lower crime rates. As explained by Chrissie Long, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, the study found that “immigration actually appears to have a protective effect on crime,” as the presence of immigrants in New York neighborhoods “often means decreased crime rates.”
As for specifically Latino immigration, a major factor in the national immigration debate and for Southern border states, Long notes that it had almost no “net effect” on total crime, and “Latino immigration is correlated with slightly less violence.” That finding matches other national surveys. A study of several American cities from 1990 to 2000 found the places with largest spike in immigration also had the “largest decreases in homicide and robbery during the same time period.”
There are many theories as to why immigrants, both documented and undocumented, may be less prone to crime and violent acts than the general population. (They are, by definition, a subset of the general population; they may be more motivated to pursue economic advancement; they may have more family ties and obligations that correlate with non-violent and law-abiding practices; they may perceive or experience higher disincentives for law-breaking, including the fear of deportation; or, as is always possible in social science, none of the above.)
Whatever the reasons, research finds that today’s immigrants don’t typically drive crime, it is a boost for the immigration reform movement.
For analysis of the policy response to the Boston bombing, read Melber’s article on The Boston Legal Issues or for more on the role of race and immigration in the electorate, check out his presidential election coverage, “Race Polarizes 2012 Electorate.”