No Crime Connection: The (Surprising?) Relationship Between Immigration & Crime

By Andrew Soboeiro

“They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.” When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States, this is how he chose to frame it. And while many condemned his claims, they clearly resonated with large numbers of Americans. Whatever the merits of immigration, millions of voters believe it makes society less safe.

A recent study casts doubt on this common but unsubstantiated assumption. By comparing data from the last three decades in more than 200 metropolitan areas in the United States, researchers examined the relationship between crime and immigration. The result will be surprising to many, though it’s consistent with prior research: not only does immigration not lead to crime, but it’s associated with lower crime rates.

The Study in Summary

Published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades” was a collaborative effort. The study was conducted by five experts from five different institutions, and found the following results:

  • Negative Crime Correlation: Since 1980, the immigrant population in the United States has increased by 109 percent, while crime has fallen by 36 percent. This negative correlation between crime and immigration persisted when researchers looked at metropolitan areas separately. Of the 200 metropolises they studied, there were 136 where immigration increased while crime levels stagnated or decreased; in only 54 did immigration and crime increase in tandem.
  • Consistency Across Crimes: Researchers found similar results for different types of crime. The assault rate, for example, has fallen by 13 percent since 1980, while the rate of robberies fell by 40 percent, and the murder rate by 42 percent. All the while, immigration levels increased.
  • A Cornucopia of Communities: Researchers compared wildly different types of communities, from massive metropolises like Miami to suburban areas like Orange County, California to rural towns like Wheeling, West Virginia. In some of these areas, most immigrant families had recently arrived; in others, they had established themselves generations ago. But even after controlling for all these demographic factors along with socioeconomic prosperity, they found a negative relationship between immigration and crime.

The researchers did not go so far as to say that immigration causes crime to decrease, and it’s possible that the negative correlation between the two is due to some other factor. But even if immigration does not necessarily lower crime, it certainly isn’t increasing it. Whatever other arguments there may be against welcoming foreigners, we aren’t any less safe for doing so.

Impact & Implications

This study isn’t the first to investigate the relationship between immigration and crime, and most previous research found similar results. But it is one of the most comprehensive studies to be conducted on this subject. By gathering data on an unprecedented scale and comparing every variety of community, this paper allows us to draw more definitive conclusions than its predecessors did. This may open the door to convincing more people that immigrants are not a threat to the safety of American society.

Changing Americans’ perceptions on this issue may be the key to building support for immigrant rights. The public has long had a more negative view of immigrants’ impact on crime than of their impact on most other facets of society, including jobs and the economy. It’s possible that concerns over crime are leading many to oppose immigrant rights who would otherwise support them.

A study like this has the potential to change public associations between immigration and crime, especially if it is coupled with evidence that immigrants are especially likely to be victims of crimes rather than perpetrators. The U visa program was designed to protect immigrants who are victims of crimes and convince them to share crucial information with the police. Using this study, advocates for immigrants could argue that by expanding U visas and welcoming immigrants in general, we make American society as a whole safer.

Vigoda Law Firm keeps track of political developments, public opinion, and all other variables that affect immigrants’ rights and freedoms in the United States. For more information or legal support, contact us today at 919-307-7817.