Criminal conviction rates in Texas, per 100,000 population, 2015. Data are from Cato Institute, 2018. Graphic: The Washington Post / Wonkblog

By Christopher Ingraham
19 June 2018

(The Washington Post) – The Trump administration's hard-line immigration policies are predicated, in part, upon the notion that immigrants who are in the country illegally represent a threat to public safety.

The White House, for instance, has sent out regular email blasts to reporters with alarmist accounts of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. President Trump has frequently exaggerated the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang originating in Los Angeles whose members tend to be from Central American countries. On Tuesday he wrote on Twitter, without evidence, that Democrats "don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13."

But the social-science research on immigration and crime is clear: Undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, with immigrants legally in the United States even less likely to do so. A number of studies published in the past several months clearly illustrate the consensus.

The first study, published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February, examines criminal conviction data for 2015 provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It found that native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country legally or illegally.

"As a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015," author Alex Nowrasteh writes. "The criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate."

The data shows similar patterns for violent crimes such as homicide and property crimes such as larceny. The study did find that immigrants in the United States illegally were more likely than native-born people to be convicted of "gambling, kidnapping, smuggling, and vagrancy." But as those crimes represented just 0.18 percent of all convictions in Texas that year, they had little effect on overall crime rates.

Bivariate Longitudinal Associations Between Undocumented Immigration and Violent Crime, 1990–2014. This graph shows state-l;evel correlation between levels of undocumented immigrants (bottom axis) and violent crime measures (left axis). Each circles represents one state observed in one years. Data are from Light and Miller, 2018 / Criminology. Graphic: The Washington Post / Wonkblog

Another study, published in March in the journal Criminology, looked at population-level crime rates: Do places with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants have higher rates of crime? The answer, as the chart above shows, is a resounding no.

States with larger shares of undocumented immigrants tended to have lower crime rates than states with smaller shares in the years 1990 through 2014. "Increases in the undocumented immigrant population within states are associated with significant decreases in the prevalence of violence," authors Michael T. Light and Ty Miller found. [more]

Two charts demolish the notion that immigrants here illegally commit more crime

ABSTRACT: Despite substantial public, political, and scholarly attention to the issue of immigration and crime, we know little about the criminological consequences of undocumented immigration. As a result, fundamental questions about whether undocumented immigration increases violent crime remain unanswered. In an attempt to address this gap, we combine newly developed estimates of the unauthorized population with multiple data sources to capture the criminal, socioeconomic, and demographic context of all 50 states and Washington, DC, from 1990 to 2014 to provide the first longitudinal analysis of the macro‐level relationship between undocumented immigration and violence. The results from fixed‐effects regression models reveal that undocumented immigration does not increase violence. Rather, the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative, although not significant in all specifications. Using supplemental models of victimization data and instrumental variable methods, we find little evidence that these results are due to decreased reporting or selective migration to avoid crime. We consider the theoretical and policy implications of these findings against the backdrop of the dramatic increase in immigration enforcement in recent decades.

Does undocumented immigration increase violent crime?



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