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Crime and Immigration: Is There A Relationship?

  • December 4, 2013

Immigration is one of the most hotly debated issues these days in the United States. For those advocating anti-immigration policies, anecdotal tales of crimes allegedly committed by immigrants are their usual argument. While these are powerful and persuasive arguments, nonetheless, these are based mainly on emotions. Without a doubt, there are immigrants who have committed a crime. But it is equally true that there are also many residents and citizens who have committed crimes. The question therefore that needs to be answered, is there a relationship between a criminal’s immigration status and the propensity to commit a crime?

In order to answer the question, we should look at the crime statistics. After all, numbers do not lie. According to the US Census Bureau, the population of immigrants, legal and illegal, tripled between 1990 and 2010. If so, following the logic of the anti-immigration supporters, then the number of crimes should also triple or at least increase. But FBI data however shows that crime rate has declined about 45% for violent crimes and 42% for property crimes. This decline happened even in areas where there are large groups of immigrants. In fact, according to one report (Americas Majority Foundation), the places with the highest immigration growth rate also had the lowest crime statistics. If there is a relationship between crime and immigration, it is at best an inverse relationship.

Apart from crime statistics, the prison population also disproves the arguments of those who are anti-immigration. The rate of incarceration of native-born men is about 3.5% for those between the ages 18-39. For immigrant men of the same age bracket, the rate is only about .7% or five times less than those of native-born men. Nationwide, non-US citizens make-up only about 10% of the prison population. Clearly therefore, being an immigrant does not ipso facto turn them into criminals.

Most immigrants, regardless of status, enter the United States to have a better life than the one they had in their home countries. Thus, it is more logical that these immigrants would avoid committing a crime. In fact, they would rather stay on the straight and narrow to avoid being deported. Immigration policies should take this into consideration rather than the emotional anecdotal evidence often presented. For hundreds of years, this country has been the immigration destination of choice for a lot of people. A well-crafted immigration law that takes emotions out of the equation can be a tool for economic growth of the United States.