Do Immigrants Originate Crimes? A Case Study of the USA


The connection between immigration and crime is one of the most contentious topics in contemporary society. These discussions are not new, as debates on the issue date back more than 100 years. There are important reasons to believe that immigrants are not involved in crime to a greater degree than native-born Americans.

The scholarly literature review above indicates contrary results to the theoretical perspective as well as common beliefs that people hold for immigration and crime nexuses. The two set of evidence—both the Census data-driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions. The scholarly work shows that for more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. 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. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime.

However, with regards to America, (where 13.1% of population is composed of migrants (United States. Department of Homeland Security, 2014), the immigration policy of state is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence. As a result, immigrants have the stigma of “criminality” ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration enforcement mechanisms. Put differently, immigrants are being defined more and more as threats. 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.

Keywords: Immigrants, USA Immigration Policy, Immigration & Crime Nexuses, Census-data Studies, Macro-Level Studies and International Migration


Immigration to the United States is a complex demographic phenomenon that has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States. The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, impact on upward social mobility, crime, and voting behavior.

The linkage between immigrants and crime is one of the most controversial contemporary social issue in our time. Discussions of this relationship are notably contentious in the literature on international migration and crimes. They are also not new, as debates on the matter date back more than 100 years (Mears, 2002). General point on which both pro and anti-immigration scholars agree is that, as we have entered the new millennium, the latest wave of immigration has a more important impact on society than any other social issue for both sending and receiving countries (Suarez-Orozco & M, 1988). This is evident from the recent developments in international migration and unfortunate events led by the immigrants be it the bombings in London or more recent the attacks in the Paris.

Similarly, throughout the past as well as a recent century, American policymakers have expressed concerns about the immigration and crimes, and especially the nexuses between two. For instance, Donald Trump—the entrepreneur and Republican presidential candidate for 2016 elections of United States of America (USA) accused Mexican immigrants in his recent statement while saying that:

“The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs (Walker, 2015).

He goes on and further asserted

“Likewise, the tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world” (Ibid).

Statements from such people just do not come without any sound reasoning behind them. However, up to what extend such concern suites with the empirical evidence on the current issue in hand, is the task of this short note to find out. The current political as well as policy division in the US over whether the immigrants cause troubles in the US and whether they should be treated with hard power or not demands further investigation.  These concerns appear to be driven by a sudden increase in the crime or by political or economic events. Whatsoever are the proximate causes, the immigration and crimes are view as inextricably linked in the USA. Historically speaking such a view has always been backed by public opinion about immigrants, and the immigrant-crime link especially, has been formed by stereotypes more often than reliable empirical data when it comes to USA (Dowling & Inda, 2013).

Thus, in this short essay, we intend to answer the question ‘Do immigrants originates crimes in the USA’? what are the nexuses between immigrants and crime and what does the existing empirical evidence says? We do so while tracing the existing major theoretical perspectives and empirical literature on crime and immigrants in USA context. The subsequent section outlines an overview of the migration to the US in historical perspectives.


This paper adopts a qualitative research technique. It mainly relies on secondary sources of data. In aligning with key technical approach of qualitative research; the secondary sourced data were also subject to content and thematic analyzes from which facts, and assumptions were derived to undertake the present study (Bryman, 2004).

Immigrants to the America: The Past and Present  

Countless families across the US trace their heritage to immigrants—many of whom arrived under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. But wherever they come from, immigrants make the trek to the United States for the same reason: to make a better life for themselves and their children. These “new Americans” became the building blocks of the nation’s communities. Succeeding generations have helped make our nation prosperous and keep our great cities thriving. It was generations of immigrants that built the nation.

American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-19th century, the start of the 20th century, and post-1965. Each period brought distinct national groups, races and ethnicities to the United States. During the 17th century, approximately 400,000 English people migrated to Colonial America (Horn, 2015). Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants (Barker, 2015).  The mid-19th century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early 20th-century mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965 mostly from Latin America and Asia. Historians estimate that fewer than 1 million immigrants came to the United States from Europe between 1600 and 1799 (Damon, 1981) The 1790 Act limited naturalization to “free white persons”; it was expanded to include blacks in the 1860s and Asians in the 1950s (Schultz, 2000). In the early years of the United States, immigration was fewer than 8,000 people a year (Weisberger, 1994), including French refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti. After 1820, immigration gradually increased. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States (Evans, 2001). The death rate on these transatlantic voyages was high, during which one in seven travelers died (Northcott & Wilson, 2008) In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875 (Will, 2010).

The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country. By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States. In 1921, the Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1924 Act was aimed at further restricting immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, particularly Jews, Italians, and Slavs, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. Immigration patterns of the 1930s were dominated by the Great Depression. In the final prosperous year, 1929, there were 279,678 immigrants recorded, but in 1933, only 23,068 came to the U.S. In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than to it. The U.S. government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will. Altogether about 400,000 Mexicans were repatriated. Most of the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and World War II were barred from coming to the United States. In the post-war era, the Justice Department launched Operation Wetback, under which 1,075,168 Mexicans were deported in 1954 (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 2015).

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished the system of national-origin quotas. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations, which changed the ethnic make-up of the United States. In 1970, 60% of immigrants were from Europe; this decreased to 15% by 2000.  In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%. In 1991, Bush signed the Armed Forces Immigration Adjustment Act 1991, allowing foreign service members who had serve 12 or more years in the US Armed Forces to qualify for permanent residency and, in some cases, citizenship.  Appointed by Bill Clinton, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended reducing legal immigration from about 800,000 people per year to approximately 550,000. While an influx of new residents from different cultures presents some challenges, “the United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations,” said President Bill Clinton in 1998. “America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants […] They have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people.”

Nearly 8 million people immigrated to the United States from 2000 to 2005; 3.7 million of them entered without papers. Since 1986 Congress has passed seven amnesties for undocumented immigrants. In 1986 president Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform that gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Hispanic immigrants suffered job losses during the late-2000s recession, but since the recession’s end in June 2009, immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs. Over 1 million immigrants were granted legal residence in 2011. Until the 1930s most legal immigrants were male. By the 1990s women accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). Contemporary immigrants tend to be younger than the native population of the United States, with people between the ages of 15 and 34 substantially overrepresented.  Immigrants are also more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than native-born Americans of the same age (Ibid).

Theoretical perspectives

A seemingly infinite variety of scholarly explanations have been proposed to make sense of the big and often contradictory data produced by research on the relationship between immigration and crime. Some early American scholars alleged that immigrant groups were biologically deficient compared with nonimmigrants and that crime was one of a host of deleterious outcomes that could be expected as long as “inferior” immigrants were allowed to enter the country (Hagan & Palloni, 1998). Given the large theoretical debates over the immigrant and crime nexuses, below we review some of the most prominent scholarly work.

The Opportunity structure

Opportunity structure theories stress the material and social structures shape the values and activities of groups in American society (Bankston, 1998). Because legitimate opportunities for wealth and social status are not equally available to all groups, some will “innovate” by taking advantage of available illegitimate opportunities. This type of explanation was popularized by early American scholars researching the effects of immigrant son their society and draws attention to the ways in which disadvantaged groups (which often includes immigrants) may be denied the legitimate means (e.g. jobs) to attain culturally prescribed goals (e.g., a middle-class lifestyle). (Hagan & Palloni, 1998) added the notion that some groups, particularly those living in “high crime” urban areas, have more illegitimate opportunities than others.

(Hagan & Palloni, 1998) goes on and argued that the tendency for new immigrants to settle in urban neighborhoods characterized by poverty, substandard housing, poor schools, and high crime rates. Thus, segregated into such neighborhoods, immigrants may turn to crime as a means to overcome blocked economic opportunities or to organized crime to gain a foothold in politics. Other academics have suggested that previously noncriminal immigrant groups may simply be “contaminated” by the criminal opportunities that abound in their neighborhoods argued and compared (Sampson & Lauritsen, 1997) on the “proximity” hypothesis).  According to this view, immigrant criminality is more a function of preexisting structural factors like poverty.

Contemporary immigrant gangs can be viewed as an alternative means of securing wealth and status in urban areas in which immigrants are concentrated and a loss of blue-collar jobs has eroded the principal basis of upward mobility used by earlier generations of immigrants. Patterns of factory life associated with the industrial revolution socialized earlier waves of immigrants (e.g., Irish, Italians) and facilitated their economic stability and assimilation into American culture, thus suppressing their crime rates (Lane, 1997; Yeager, 1997).  But the contemporary loss of industrial jobs, traceable to the recent transition of the economy from a manufacturing to a service orientation, has had drastic consequences on the legitimate (and illegitimate) opportunities in American cities. Although deindustrialization impacts both immigrants and nonimmigrants, newcomers (who are both economically and culturally marginal in American society) may find the potential benefits of the “informal economy” particularly attractive. Since the possibility of gang membership is not open to everyone and is, in fact, usually based on ethnic identity, among other things, the availability of illegitimate opportunities in gangs is one structural variable that differentially influences immigrant crime across social units such as cities or neighborhoods. Taken together, such factors are primarily responsible for the crimes originated by the immigrants in the US.

The cultural approaches

In addition to this list of structural issues, scholars have viewed cultural forces as influencing criminal involvement, and immigrant crime in particular. The “culture of poverty” thesis—where low-income people adapt to their structural conditions in ways that perpetuate their disadvantaged condition—is one example of a cultural explanation. Thus, engaging in crime as a means of acquiring social status draws children away from schoolwork, which reduces the probability of future economic advancement. A variant of this explanation for crime, the “subculture of violence” thesis, suggests that violence can become a “normal” and expected means of dispute resolution in economically disadvantaged areas. Because immigrants and ethnic minorities are more likely than native whites to reside in such areas, these cultural theories would seem particularly useful. Of course, as (Sampson & Lauritsen, 1997) point out, the subculture of violence theory cannot explain the wide variations in violent crime rates across structurally diverse minority neighborhoods, and they conclude that structural conditions are ultimately more important than cultural traditions.

(Bankston, 1998) also notes that the existence of gangs across a variety of disadvantaged immigrant groups implies that they are the product of similar structural conditions rather than an outcome of the cultural traditions of any specific group. Finally, it would be a mistake to attribute comparatively high rates of minor crimes, such as illegal gambling among New York City’s Puerto Rican newcomers in the 1950s, to their specific cultural traditions, since similarly disadvantaged native blacks also had high rates. As (Lane, 1997) points out, neither ethnic group saw gambling as a crime. Instead, the numbers game represented the American ideal of economic advancement.

Nevertheless, some writers suggest that certain types of crime are more prevalent among specific immigrant groups because of cultural traditions that are brought from the home country. Some argued that immigrant groups had “cultural predispositions” toward certain crimes. For example, in the 1920s, Italians had high rates of conviction for homicide but low rates of arrest for drunkenness. Another body of literature in the cultural tradition has focused on the processes by which immigrants adapt to the traditions of the host country. It has long been asserted that acculturation to a new environment involves “adjustment to heterogeneous conduct norms” and this, in turn, can lead to higher crime rates. Immigrant gangs, for example, usually owe as much to American cultural traditions as to those of the immigrant culture; adult Vietnamese refer to Vietnamese delinquents as “Americanized” (Bankston, 1998). Immigrant gangs also form as a reaction to ethnic tensions in diverse neighborhoods; they provide physical protection from other ethnic based gangs and maintain ethnic identities in the face of pressures for assimilation (Long & Ricard, 1997).

Other theoretical and empirical work on acculturation and crime found that delinquency among Korean-American youths varied by mode of acculturation: separation, assimilation, and marginalization. Interestingly, assimilated youths were more likely to be delinquent than those who were separated or marginalized (Y. H. Lee, 1998). Similarly, (Stepick & Swartz, 1998) reports that Haitian children in South Florida adjust to extreme anti-Haitian sentiment by trying to “pass” as being African-American.

The social disorganization perspective

The social disorganization perspective, although not denying the importance of cultural or structural forces, adds to the other perspectives a concern with the breakdown of community social institutions that results from social change. In organized neighborhoods, local community institutions work together to realize community goals, protect values, and generally control the behavior of community members in ways that conform to these goals and values. (Bankston, 1998) notes that immigration may undermine established institutions via a process of population turnover, while it also makes agreement about common values more difficult. The implication/argument of such a notion is that when social control is weakened in this manner crime will flourish (Ibid).

The effectiveness of social rules (i.e. laws) derived from the individual’s investment in them (i.e. attitudes favorable to laws). In the organized society, there was congruence between group rules and individual attitudes. Disorganization implied a gap between rules and attitudes, such that an individual did not feel bound by the rules and was free to disobey them (i.e. engage in crime). Viewed in this light, disorganization was a neutral term that suggested the possibility of social change, both positive and negative, and individual liberation from oppressive community standards, although it has generally been applied to studies of crime. One contribution to this literature is the recognition that crime not only is a function of economic (e.g., poverty) or cultural (e.g., subculture of violence) forces, but is intimately tied to the fundamental processes of social change (Bucerius, 2011).

Recent theoretical work by (Sampson & Lauritsen, 1997) has attempted to demonstrate how macrosocial and local community-level structural forces can be combined to improve on the classic disorganization framework. Although this work developed from an attempt to explain black-white crime differences as well as the wide variation in black crime rates across structurally different community areas.  The theory can also advance our knowledge of the link between immigration and crime. Sampson and Lauritsen suggest that powerful factors (e.g., segregation, housing discrimination, structural transformation of the economy) coincide with local community-level factors (e.g., residential turnover, concentrated poverty, family disruption) to impede the social organization of inner cities. A deeper understanding of the interaction effects of these variables would enhance existing theories by better incorporating the role of the “massive social change” (Sampson & Lauritsen, 1997) experienced by the mostly black residents in U.S. inner cities in the 1970s and 1980s. Since the post-1965 immigration wave brought newcomers into these same structural conditions, we might expect high rates of immigrant crime during this time period. This question is the subject of the next section on empirical studies of immigration and crime.

Immigrant and Crimes:  What does the Empirical Evidence Says

As noted in the introduction section that the nexuses between immigrants and crime is one of most contentious topic in the academic literature. If media accounts are to be believed, immigration to the United States is a primary cause of increased crime rates. Review of recent anticrime policies targeting immigrants would lead one to the same conclusion. However, contrary to the mythical believes and stereotypes that exist in the contemporary America, the empirical evidence conducted over various time suggest otherwise.   More precisely, most empirical research suggests precisely the opposite conclusion: many immigrant groups consistently demonstrate significantly lower crime rates than do native populations. Thus, a variety of empirical literature exists that has somehow solved the mystery of nexus between migration and crime.

While looking into the existing scholarly literature we found that there are two broad types of studies that investigate immigrant criminality.  The first type uses Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data from the institutionalized population and broadly concludes that immigrants are less crime prone than the native-born population (Mears, 2002).  It is important to note that immigrants convicted of crimes serve their sentences before being deported with few exceptions.  However, we also found that there are some potential problems with Census-based studies that could lead to inaccurate results.  That is where the second type of study comes in.  The second type is a macro level analysis to judge the impact of immigration on crime rates, generally finding that increased immigration does not increase crime and sometimes even causes crime rates to fall.

The Immigrant Crime nexuses:  Censuses of the Institutionalized Population

A large number of scholarly studies are conducted both by the government institutions and by private sector researchers.  For instance, Butcher and Piehl (Butcher & Piehl, 2007) examine the incarceration rates for men aged 18-40 in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses.  In each year immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives with the gap widening each decade.  By 2000, immigrants have incarceration rates that are one-fifth those of the native-born.  Butcher and Piehl wrote another paper (Butcher, Piehl, & Liao, 2008) focusing on immigrant incarceration in California by looking at both property and violent crimes by city.  Between years 2000 and 2005, California cities with large inflows of recent immigrants tended have lower violent crimes rates and the findings are statistically significant.  During the same time period, there is no statistically significant relationship between immigration and property crime.

Most recent study conducted by (Ewing & Martínez, 2015)—researcher at the American migration council summarized their findings as:

“[R]oughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.  The disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial census.  In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants (Ibid)”.

They continue by focusing on immigrant incarceration rates by country of origin in the 2010 Census.  Less educated young Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men (poorly educated young men are most likely to be incarcerated) make up the bulk of the unlawful immigrant population but have significantly lower incarceration rates than native-born men without a high-school diploma.  In 2010, 10.7 percent of native-born men aged 18-39 without a high school degree were incarcerated compared to 2.8 percent of Mexican immigrants and 1.7 percent of Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants.  These are similar to (R. Rumbaut, 2009) older research also based on Census data from 2000.  Controlling for relevant observable factors, young uneducated immigrant men from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala are less likely to be incarcerated than similarly situated native-born men.

Nevertheless, studies of immigrant criminality based on Census data alone could fail to give the full picture.  First, many of the answers given to the Census may have been educated guesses (Vaughan & Camarota, 2009) from the Census workers and not the inmates.  Second, the government has done a very poor job of gathering data on the nationality and immigration status of prisoners – even when it has tried.  That biases us against the accuracy of prison surveys by the Census Bureau.  Third, incarceration rates may better reflect the priorities of law enforcement than the true rates of criminal activity among certain populations.

Immigrant Crime nexuses: The Macro-Level Analysis of Immigrant Criminality

To avoid the potential Census data problems, academic researchers have looked at crime rates and immigration nexuses on a macro scale.  These investigations also capture other avenues through which immigration could cause crimes.  For instance, by inducing an increase in native criminality or by being easy targets for native criminals.

The phased rollout of the Secure Communities (S-COMM) immigration enforcement program provided a natural experiment.  A recent paper by Adam B. Cox (Cox, 2014) used the phased rollout to see how S-COMM affected crime rates per county.  If immigrants were disproportionately criminal, then S-COMM would decrease the crime rates.  They found that S-COMM “led to no meaningful reduction in the FBI index crime rate” including violent crimes.  Relying on similar data with different specifications, (Treyger, Chalfin, & Loeffler, 2014) found that S-COMM did not decrease crime rates nor did it lead to an increase in discriminatory policing that some critics were worried about.  According to both reports, the population of immigrants is either not correlated, or negatively correlated, with crime rates.

(Ousey & Kubrin, 2009) looked at 159 cities at three dates between 1980 and 2000 and found that crime rates and levels of immigration are not correlated.  They conclude that “[v]iolent crime is not a deleterious consequence of increased immigration.”  (Martínez, 2008) looked at 111 U.S. cities with at least 5,000 Hispanics and found no statistically significant findings. (Reida, Weissb, Adelmana, & Jaret, 2005) looked at a sample of 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and found that levels of recent immigration had a statistically significant negative effect on homicide rates but no effect on property crime rates.  They wrote,

“[i]t appears that anti-immigrant sentiments that view immigrants as crime prone are not only inaccurate at the micro-level, they are also inaccurate at the macro-level … increased immigration may actually be beneficial in terms of lessening some types of crimes.”

(Wadsworth, 2010) found that cities with greater growth in immigrant or new immigrant populations between 1990 and 2000 tended to have steeper decreases in homicide and robbery rates.    Using panel data on U.S. counties,(Spenkuch, 2013) finds that a 10 percent increase in the share of immigrants increases the property crime rate by 1.2 percent.  In other words, the average immigrant commits roughly 2.5 times as many property crimes as the average native but with no impact on violent crime rates.  He finds that this effect on property crime rates is caused entirely by Mexican immigrants.  Separating Mexicans from other immigrants, the former commit 3.5 to 5 times as many crimes as the average native.  However, all other immigrants commit less than half as many crimes as natives.  This is the most deleterious finding that we discovered.

(Stowell, Messner, Mcgeever, & Raffalovich, 2009) looked at 103 different MSAs from 1994-2004 and finds that violent crime rates tended to decrease as the concentration of immigrants increased.  An immigrant concentration two standard deviations above the mean translates into 40.5 fewer violent crimes per 100,000 compared to a decrease of 8.1 violent crimes in areas that experienced a change in immigration concentration two standard deviations below the mean.  It is easy to focus on the horrible tragedies when somebody is murdered by an immigrant but it’s very hard to imagine all of the people who weren’t murdered because of the lower crime rates created by increased immigration.  In their summary of the research on this topic, they write:

“[T]he weight of the evidence suggests that immigration is not associated with increased levels of crime.  To the extent that a relationship does exist, research often finds a negative effect of immigration on levels of crime, in general, and on homicide in particular” (Ibid).

Some immigrants from certain countries of origin may be more crime prone than others, as Spenkuch finds above.  To test this (Chalfin, 2014), used rainfall patterns in Mexico to estimate inflows of Mexican immigrants.  The idea is that lower rainfall and a decrease in agricultural productivity in Mexico would push marginal Mexican immigrants out of Mexico and into the U.S. labor market.  Mexican rainfall patterns and the subsequent immigration had no effect on violent or property crime rates in major U.S. metropolitan areas.    These trends have also been found on the local level. (Davies & Fagan, 2012) looked at crime and immigration patterns at the neighborhood level in New York City.  They find that crime rates are not higher in areas with more immigrants.  (Sampson, 2008) looked at Chicago and found that Hispanic immigrants were far less likely to commit a violent criminal act then either black or white native Chicagoans.  (M. T. Lee, Martinez, & Rosenfeld, 2001) found that trends in recent immigration are either not correlated with homicides or are negatively correlated in Miami, San Diego, and El Paso.  The only exception is that there is a positive relationship between immigration and black homicide rates in San Diego. Other studies for instance (Stowell et al., 2009)  also conclude that the high immigration rate of the 1990s significantly contributed to the precipitous crime decline of that decade.  According to this theory, immigrants are less crime prone and have positive spillover effects like aiding in community redevelopment, rebuilding of local civil society in formerly decaying urban cores, and contributing to greater economic prosperity through pushing natives up the skills spectrum through complementary task specialization.


The scholarly literature review above indicates contrary results to the theoretical perspective as well as common believes that people hold for immigration and crime nexuses. The two set of evidence—both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions.  There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality.  One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law (Vaughn, Salas-Wright, DeLisi, & Maynard, 2014).

Another explanation is that immigrants self-select for those willing to work rather than those willing to commit crimes.  According to this “healthy immigrant thesis,” motivated and ambitious foreigners are more likely to immigrate and those folks are less likely to be criminals. This could explain why immigrants are less likely to engage in “anti-social” behaviors than natives despite having lower incomes (R. G. Rumbaut & Ewing, 2007).  It’s also possible that more effective interior immigration enforcement is catching and deporting unlawful immigrants who are more likely to be criminals before they have a chance to be incarcerated.

In the case of America, unfortunately, immigration policy is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence. As a result, immigrants have the stigma of “criminality” ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration-enforcement mechanisms. Put differently, immigrants are being defined more and more as threats. 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.


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