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Study finds immigrants reduce crime rates, suffer from other disparities

on October 15, 2015

Contrary to popular belief and campaign season rhetoric, immigrants reduce crime rates in American cities and, for a while, help to improve social stability in their neighborhoods, a new report has found.

In fact, while immigrant families and their children eventually start to commit more crimes, the report suggests that happens only after the newcomers have had time to assimilate to American culture.

A panel of 18 leading experts on immigration authored the report, titled “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society,” which compiled the findings of the latest immigration studies over the last two decades.

The research indicates that although these newcomers lower crime rates, they also face unique challenges. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America generally arrive in the United States with less than 10 years of schooling. Their children complete more than 12 years of formal education, but still fail to catch up with native-born children.

Immigrants also have a lower earning potential. The foreign-born are only 5 percent above the national poverty rate.

One of the largest challenges that immigrants face is how they are perceived. The report found that Americans believe immigrants commit more crimes than natives, in part because they are disproportionately male and young—characteristics associated with crime. The new report contradicts popular opinion. Incarceration rates of immigrant males, ages 18-39, are 50 percent less than the native-born. That figure includes immigrant males in jail for immigration violations and remained true for all immigrants, regardless of race or ethnicity.

The foreign-born population in Richmond increased from a quarter to a third since the year 2000. Over the last decade, the city’s total number of crime incidents decreased by the same amount, from 8,168 in 2004 to 5,151 in 2014.

Once known for having one of the worst per capita murder rates in the country, Richmond is now a safer city lined with taquerias, and where one in three people speak Spanish.

Some locals see a connection.

“After fleeing war or poverty, immigrants have a strong motivation to make their lives here as stable as possible,” said former Richmond mayor and current Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin. “They add peace and stability to our community.”

A Gallup poll found that half of Americans think immigrants increase crime, a perception that scholars believe comes from the media and the mouths of some politicians. Days after the July shooting of a woman in San Francisco by an undocumented Mexican became a national news story, Donald Trump referred to Mexicans as “rapists.” Although the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the number of rapes committed in the United States was nearly six times higher than in Mexico, the report claims that so-called “issue-entrepreneurs,” like Trump, succeed in convincing the public that immigrants commit crimes.

“Whenever an undocumented immigrant commits a violent crime people use it as an example that immigrants make communities unsafe,” said Irene Bloemraad, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley who helped draft the new report. “It might surprise the general public, but that’s just not the case.”

The report that Bloemraad helped author claims that “dramatic differences” exist between immigrants and the native-born. Hispanic men born outside the U.S. have an incarceration rate that is one-seventh that of U.S.-born Hispanic men. Men born in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador with low levels of education—immigrants who are most likely to be undocumented—were one-third as likely to wind up in jail than native-born men with a similar amount of schooling.

As immigrants assimilate, their children commit higher levels of crime than their parents, roughly equal to non-immigrants. The study also states that assimilated immigrants who both speak English and have attained legal immigration status in the U.S. also commit more crimes.

The Richmond Police Department reported a 10 percent increase in crime during the first quarter of 2015, raising the question of whether immigrant children will eventually contribute to an uptick in the city’s crime. The department does not keep records about the immigration status of those who commit crimes, but Lt. Andre Hill said authorities give some credit to Richmond’s immigrant community for helping to make the city safer over the last decade.

He cites Richmond’s status as a sanctuary city as a factor that deters immigrants from running afoul with the law.

“Immigrants in Richmond are like locals in the Bahamas who don’t jack tourists because they want them to come back,” Hill said. “People don’t bring crime to a city that protects them.”

While working on the report, Bloemraad said that the most disturbing thing she learned was from a study that found the children of undocumented immigrants experience cognitive delays and higher incidents of mental health issues during adolescence.

The research suggests that while the arrival of immigrant families improves safety in American communities by lowering crime rates, immigrants themselves face longterm disadvantages.


  1. Tony Suggs on October 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    The analysis of this study is useless.

    1) It does not show the raw data separating legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. Most Legal immigrants worked hard to get to the U.S. and appreciate the opportunity to be here and are overwhelmingly law abiding.

    Illegal immigrants already broke a law by entering the country ILLEGALLY!

    2) The incarceration rates are from 2005. Illegal immigration has skyrocketed since then.

    3) The education, earnings and poverty charts are from 2013. So they can’t be used to show or not show any connection to the incarceration rates from the 2005 data.

    4) Again the education, earnings and poverty rates do not separate legal from illegal immigrants.

    No one is complaining about LEGAL immigration. Its the illegal immigration that many are wanting to put an end to.

    5) Many illegal immigrants are not convicted of any crime. That is because they are usually deported and the local court dropped the charge. No conviction, no crime statistic.

    Also, as the RPD indicated they do not report immigration status on their arrests as do many cities in California and across the country. So how accurate are the crime stats? We only know about those that are actually convicted and in prison.

    6) Finally as far as the notion of “lowering crime rates,” that is ridiculous. All that is a simple mathematical equation. If you already have a certain amount of crime, adding more people to the equation that add only a smaller increase in crime, it looks like a actual reduction. But it is not. All it means is there are a lot more people added to the base than what ever amount of increase in crime that they MAY have added.

    So, the number of crimes committed is based against a much larger number of people overall. Thus the rate per 100,000 for example, may show a reduction when reality, the real number of crimes has gone up.

    But lets also remember, crime rates in the U.S has been going down overall since 1989.

    I doubt that we can attribute that to immigration, legal or otherwise

    • Maya on October 15, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      I agree with Tony Suggs’ comments. Totally.

  2. Tony Suggs on October 15, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    After a short search, here is verifiable facts from the “Pro Immigrant” group, Center for Immigration Studies

    Among the findings of a 2009 Report:

    •The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that immigrants (legal and illegal) comprise 20 percent of inmates in prisons and jails. The foreign-born are 15.4 percent of the nation’s adult population. However, DHS has not provided a detailed explanation of how the estimates were generated.

    •Under contract to DHS in 2004, Fentress, Inc., reviewed 8.1 million inmate records from state prison systems and 45 large county jails. They found that 22 percent of inmates were foreign-born. But the report did not cover all of the nation’s jails.

    •The 287(g) program and related efforts have found high rates of illegal alien incarceration in some communities. But it is unclear if the communities are representative of the country:

    ◦Maricopa County, Ariz.: 22 percent of felons are illegal aliens;
    ◦Lake County, Ill.: 19 percent of jail inmates are illegal aliens;
    ◦Collier County, Fla.: 20 to 22 percent of jail inmates and arrestees are illegal aliens;
    ◦Weld County, Colo.: 12.8 to 15.2 percent of those jailed are illegal aliens.

    •DHS states that it has identified 221,000 non-citizens in the nation’s jails. This equals 11 to 15 percent of the jail population. Non-citizens comprise only 8.6 percent of the nation’s total adult population.

    •The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 26.4 percent of inmates in federal prisons are non-U.S. citizens. Non-citizens are 8.6 percent of the nation’s adult population. However, federal prisons are not representative of prisons generally or local jails.

    •Most studies comparing crime rates and immigration levels across cities show no clear correlation between the immigrant share of a city’s population and its level of crime. This is one of the strongest arguments that immigrants do not have high crime rates. However, such studies generally measure only overall crime, not crimes specifically committed by immigrants, so their value is limited. And a 2009 analysis by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics found that crime rates were higher in metropolitan areas that received large numbers of legal immigrants, contradicting several older cross-city comparisons.

    •Some have argued that the fall in national crime rates since the early 1990s is evidence that immigration may actually reduce crime. However, overall crime rates are affected by so many factors that it is a very poor way to examine a link between immigration and crime. The 1970s and 1980s saw crime rates rise along with immigration levels.

    •Overall incarceration rates are also a poor means of examining the link between immigration and crime. Since the 1970s, the share of the U.S. population that is incarcerated has grown almost exactly in proportion to the share of the population that is immigrant. But unless inmates can be identified as immigrant or native-born this information sheds little light on the issue of immigrant criminality.

    People do your own research. The facts are out there from unbiased sources.

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