Study: What Immigrant Crime Wave?

A new study by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson finds that rising immigration rates in communities do not result in rising crime rates.

studied crime and immigration in 180 neighborhoods in Chicago over seven years, found that first-generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violent acts than third generation Americans.

"Immigrants have lower rates of crime and there is a negative correlation between the trends," Sampson said in an interview.

The results of Sampson's study showed that incentive to work, ambition and a desire not to be deported were common reasons cited for first generation immigrants, especially Mexicans, not to commit crimes.

Sampson also studied data from police records, the U.S Census and surveyed more than 8,000 Chicago residents. The study showed there was significant immigration growth, including illegal aliens-in the mid-1990s, peaking at the end of the decade.

But during that time the national homicide rate plunged. Crime also dropped in immigration hot spots, such as Los Angeles, where it fell 45 percent overall, San Jose, Dallas and Phoenix.

I hope this is one myth we can now leave behind us. It matches another study I wrote about here, urging an end to the politics of bigotry and fear .

The vast majority of immigrants in this country, whether present with or without proper papers, are hardworking, law-abiding people with strong family ties. They are little different from the immigrants of 100 years ago. They are not stealing our jobs or draining scant public resources. They pay taxes and help make our country a better place for all of us.

Most immigrants enter the country legally. According to the INS Statistical Yearbook, 75 percent of immigrants have legal, permanent visas. Of the 25 percent who are undocumented, 40 percent overstayed temporary visas, meaning their initial entry into the country was legal.

Immigration does not breed crime. Our prisons are not overflowing because of crimes by the undocumented. They are overflowing because of our failed criminal justice policies and over reliance on incarceration versus treatment and rehabilitation with respect to our nonviolent homegrown offenders.

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    Seriously (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by clapclappointpoint on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 04:41:10 AM EST
    the Republicans will make hay with your "urging an end to the politics of bigotry and fear" in the fall.  You can't expect to talk to the American people like they're mature adults and expect things not to blow up in your face.  And don't even think about saying that immigration is a complex issue.  They don't take kindly to "nuance".

    Next time, just talk down to the lowest common denominator.  You'll be less likely to offend the poor white people in swing states that way.

    But more seriously (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by clapclappointpoint on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 04:43:32 AM EST
    nice pickup, Jeralyn.

    Hw about (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Molly Bloom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 07:21:19 AM EST
    immigrants less likely to steal than swiftboating heads of the RNC?

    Is that simplified enough?


    "never let the facts interfere (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 05:51:15 AM EST
    with a good story."

    attributed to william randolph hearst, the pioneer of "yellow journalism" (actually, it was because of the hue of the paper used for printing), is always current.

    the average "joe sixpack" isn't inclined towards pointy headed "studies". rather, he gets his "news" from the likes of rush limbaugh.

    this reality isn't going to stop the right-wingnut 527's in the fall.

    they are? damn, (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by cpinva on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 07:10:50 AM EST
    i always miss them!

    the elitists are here!

    if you're too stupid or lazy to make your life's decisions for yourself, that's really your own problem to deal with.

    it's funny, a guy born to incredible wealth, educated at the most expensive private schools in the north east, then to harvard and yale, based on his father's accomplishments, not his own, is hailed as some kind of "good old boy" because he managed to squander that valuable education, and sounds like a dufus in public.

    anyone who uses words with more than one syllable is accused of being "elitest". seems to me you really should look the word up, before you bandy it about, clearly, you've not a clue.

    the fact remains, those least educated are most likely to not be influenced at all by the results of this study.

    LOl (1.00 / 0) (#19)
    by Wile ECoyote on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 10:01:37 AM EST
    Talking Bush,Kerry, or Kennedy?

    Thanks for posting this Jeralyn (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by mexboy on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 08:56:05 AM EST
    The study confirms what I live everyday. People come here for the same reason the founding fathers came here for; A better life, not to commit crimes.

    As a Mexican immigrant I feel the blame hurled at my community every time a Republican politician wants to get votes or money.

    I am aware that whenever anything like crime happens with an immigrant it is blamed on Mexicans (whether they are Mexican or not) but when a Mexican person does something good, he or she is always called a Latino on the media. It is my purpose in life to help change that, and it is heart warming to see others care enough to find the facts and then post them on a forum like this.

    And just so that there is no misunderstanding, I am a US Citizen and I contribute to this country with my creativity and my share of taxes, and yes I do vote.

    Thanks again Jeralyn

    Voters agree with you (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by MikeDitto on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:15:08 AM EST
    In Tom Tancredo's home district the voters have at most a mixed opinion on the subject. Recent polling there has perplexed Republicans who were expecting immigration to be their signature issue this year to the point that U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer (a member of Tancredo's nativist immigration caucus when he was in the House) would not publicly state his opinion on immigration at the time, and has since stated a position that is fairly well identical to the Democratic position (improve border security, path to citizenship, guest worker program) with the only stated exception of being opposed to the DREAM Act.

    Now it seems they have to fall back on bashing the gays and alternately denying or celebrating the existence of global warming.

    Well (none / 0) (#7)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 07:58:54 AM EST
     we should all repudiate politics of fear and bigotry and policy should be made with reference to facts not false propaganda.

      However, making policy decisions based upon knowledge that 1st generation  immigrants are less likely than 3rd generation immigrants does not eliminater all the other very sound reasons to reject the "open borders" policy endorsed here.

      This is a very important and complex issue with deep ramifications domestically, and in the emigre nations.

      "Deport em all and build a fence" is a simple-minded, unfair and unworkable policy. "Open borders" is a simple-minded, unfair and workable policy. Anyone even slightly intersted in contributing to thoughful, fair and workable solution would acknowledge both thosr facts.

    Please cite one example of a serious politician... (none / 0) (#17)
    by tbetz on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:47:28 AM EST
    ... supporting the idea of "open borders".

    Maybe there's some small time Latino LA ward heeler who has espoused this for the sake of a few stupido votes, but I can't think of a single serious politician on the national level who supports such an idiotic idea.

    Of course, the advocates of "deport 'em all and build a flaming moat full of crocodiles" will mischaracterize anyone who disagess with them in that way, but really, why burn that straw man?


    That should be (none / 0) (#8)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 08:00:51 AM EST
    UNworkable with regard to "open borders."

    Makes sense.... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 08:30:44 AM EST
    I never bought the "immigrant crime wave" propaganda campaign.

    People are people...ya know?

    Calling Lou Dobbs!!!! (none / 0) (#10)
    by athyrio on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 08:41:08 AM EST
    Wonder what excuse he will present this time to scream about this...He won't be liking this study for sure lol....

    Yeah... (none / 0) (#11)
    by Claw on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 08:45:44 AM EST
    I'm with you Jeralyn, but the odds of us leaving this particular myth behind are about as good as Huckabee's Presidential chances.  It's become, as you well know, an article of faith among many republicans and pretend-independents like Dobbs.  

    I wonder (none / 0) (#13)
    by tek on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:02:14 AM EST
    if it's a good thing to raise this issue at a time when Democrats are already at each other's throats?  There exists a great divide among liberals over illegal immigration, whether crime related or not.

    Having lived two out of the last four years in the Chicago suburbs and California, I'm always surprised by these studies and wonder what are the criteria for them?  The first time we moved to the Chicago area (a small university town) the landlord told us straight out, this town now has a Hispanic neighborhood on the east side and don't go there.  We later learned that the Chicago police had learned how to combat gang crime in the city very well and Latino gangs moved out to this little town where the police force was not equipped to deal with them.

    When we moved to the East Bay area of California we received a letter with our apartment lease that stated there was a high crime rate in the area and even places that had always been considered safe no longer were.  My husband taught at a law school in San Francisco.  The city has been declared a sanctuary city for illegals.  It's become like a police state, so much security everywhere. Students and professors were provided with armed guards to walk them to the train stations.  We had spent significant time in S. F. in the past and the crime situation seemed to have deteriorated.  The local papers complained constantly about the elevated homicide rate and ran statistics frequently.

    We are doing a temp in a college town in GA next year.  We've already seen the statistics on gang activity in this small university town.  The Mexican Mafia and the MS 13 both have carved out territories in that little town and the university issues a crime-prevention bulletin to incoming students and faculty.  Again, faculty are advised not to walk on campus alone at night and are provided with armed guards to walk them to their cars after dark.

    I know liberals aren't supposed to raise these questions, but I always wonder how the reality on the street contrasts so sharply with studies.  Perhaps the people conducting the studies don't talk to criminals or because their presence is illegal, their activities aren't reported.  Idont know.

    We also have several friends who are Mexican/American.  Their grandparents and parents came here illegally years ago and they're all lovely, hard-working professional people who have succeeded.  I understand the problems in Latin America and I'm not stereotyping a whole race.  However, I think there are particular problems with having people come into any country without any documentation, medical or criminal background especially.  The problems surrounding illegal immigration--perhaps the biggest of which is the negative effect on American labor--will not be solved by ignoring or glossing over them.  

    I came to this country as an infant... (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by Maria Garcia on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:40:51 AM EST
    ...more than 50 years ago, a citizen already I might add since I was born in Puerto Rico. And I hate to tell you but we had gangs back then too. And the Irish and the Italians and the Jews had gangs. Gangs and crime are a product of poverty and ghettoization not immigration.

    It's true (none / 0) (#23)
    by tek on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:07:02 AM EST
    that there have always been gangs and they have largely been new immigrant populations, which I believe supports my data.  We know that even with legal entry this is a problem, so why do we discount it with illegal entry and essentially say that it isn't happening?  With illegals, we have less chance of containing it because we don't know who these people are, where they are, or how criminal they are.  I want to hear a valid argument on why people should be allowed to enter the country without a criminal background or appropriate medical checks, including vaccinations, etc.

    I guess I've arrived at a point where I believe Americans tend to confuse racism and bigotry--although valid in some instances--with bona fide trouble spots in our society.  


    The biggest problem involving criminality (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by litigatormom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:56:31 AM EST
    and illegal aliens is that illegal aliens are especially vulnerable to crimes against them, as they are known to be reluctant to report such crimes for fear of being reported to federal immigration authorities. Municipalities that have adopted a policy of not allowing the police to inquire into the immigration status of a crime victim are denounced by anti-immigration activists as providing "sanctuary" to illegal aliens.  Even illegal aliens, if they have "entered" the country (i.e., not been stopped at the border) are entitled to some constitutional protections, but apparently, to some people, being protected from crime is not one of them.

    All four of my grandparents, and my father as well, came here from Puerto Rico, so they came as citizens and never had to face immigration problems directly.  However, with growing anti-immigration sentiment, Puerto Ricans and other Latino citizens and legal residents face discrimination and possible harassment from people who assume that ALL Latinos are here illegally.  Illegal immigration is a problem, but "securing" the borders only addresses part of the problem because most illegals come here legally and simply overstay their visas. My brother-in-law -- who is British -- was in that situation, having fallen in love with my sister while he was in the US getting a business degree.  (He "solved" his immigration problem by getting married to her, resulting in the hilarious immigration interview in which they had to answer questions demonstrating that they had a bona fide marriage while my sister was six months pregnant. It still took almost two years after their wedding to get his permanent legal residency established.)


    You (none / 0) (#24)
    by tek on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:11:28 AM EST
     misunderstand my statement about S. F.  The right or the opposition didn't pronounce it a "sanctuary," the governor ANNOUNCED that San Francisco would hence forth be a sanctuary city--a political term--for illegal immigrants.  Chicago has not quite done that, but they are very welcoming to illegal Hispanics.  Which, I believe raises another thorny legal question in that I don't quite understand how we can have federal laws that states and cities don't have to follow.  Of course, there are always some laws that seem offensive or undemocratic, but those should be protested and we should elect legislatures to repeal them, if we really don't want them.  Otherwise, chaos.

    I wasn't talking about SF (none / 0) (#29)
    by litigatormom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:36:09 AM EST
    I was talking about a city on the East Coast.

    The states are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws. People picked up for crimes, of course, will have their immigration status determined and reported to the feds, but even these people are not immediately deported.  Typically, they are tried and sentenced for crimes committed here and THEN deported after they have served their sentence.

    When federal immigration officials (now known as ICE) conduct raids, they do so based on some evidence that undocumented aliens reside at the locations raided, and they may bring local law enforcement officials with them, but local law enforcement officials are not supposed to go out on their own to find out where any illegal aliens may live in their municipalities.

    The question I was addressing was whether a person who goes to the police to complain that he or she was robbed or assaulted should have to reveal to the police that s/he is undocumented? Does THAT make a city a sanctuary city?  I don't think so. Does an undocumented alien who applies for a state fund that subsidizes the costs of home heating oil have to reveal his/her immigration status? If not, is that state a "sanctuary state"? I don't think so.  

    Immigration is a federal issue, and federal immigration policy has to be set and led by the federal government.  Local law enforcement has no independent jurisdiction.


    I'm working on a pro bono matter (none / 0) (#16)
    by litigatormom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:46:06 AM EST
    right now involving a "community watchdog group" trying to get records through FOIA that they think will identify illegal aliens living in a municipality (the records won't reveal that, but that's not stopping them).  The municipality and the state are opposing the FOIA request on the grounds (among others) that disclosure will create a public safety problem because the community watchdog group has a history of harassing illegal aliens, government officials who are sympathetic to or provide services to illegal aliens, etc.  The group's website has links to the John Birch Society, the Minuteman, and other nativist vigilante groups. The group's stated purpose in seeking the records is to intimidate illegals living in the municipality to stop seeking services and go "back where they came from."

    The city and the state, in opposing the FOIA request, submitted various newspaper articles quoting the intimidating and racist statements of the group's members.  The group tried to exclude these statements on the grounds that they have a First Amendment right to hate speech (unfortunately, true, at least in most cases) and that it would be unfair if the exercise of right to hate speech were held against them in the FOIA proceeding!

    The first time I read that I laughed out loud for 5 minutes.  Hopefully, the FOIA commission will too.

    I (none / 0) (#25)
    by tek on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:15:54 AM EST
    am not trying to support the John Birch Society or the harassment of any population group.  Surely, there are hateful people in the U. S. I'm just saying, there's more than one, simple side to this issue.  I think there are probably a number of valid positions between the open border and the John Birch hate crimes against immigrants.

    the topic here (none / 0) (#27)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:20:46 AM EST
    is whether immigrants are responsible for increased crime.

    Phrased that way (none / 0) (#36)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 01:42:26 PM EST
     the only answer is, of course yes.

      Heck, getting rid of a large number of people of any classification or grouping you could possibly identify would mean "less crime"even if the group was gray haired grannies in tennis shoes who belong to knitting circles  because some of them do commit crimes even if the proportion is tiny.

      I'm being facetious, but the argument that more people does not mean more crime is a loser from the word go.


    crime trends (none / 0) (#37)
    by diogenes on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 09:14:53 PM EST
    Didn't homicide rates also decrease among native whites and blacks in a dramatic way since the 1980's, probably due to cultural and policing patterns?  In any case, this in no way contradicts the Bill O'Reilly thesis that an illegal alien convicted of any crime ought to be deported because if you are convicted of one crime you are MUCH MORE LIKELY to commit others.

    Why would you laugh? (none / 0) (#20)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 10:02:27 AM EST
      Do you truly believe we should withhold public information from citizens based on speculation that their political beliefs and opinions might motivate them to take certain actions?

      Would not that same argument not apply to the argument government should not be required to disclose the involvement of certain people in any given governmental process, if the government officials claimed the involved people might be subject to intimidation or harassment if identified?

       Would you take the same position if an environmental coalition sought records concerning who acted on behalf developers if some members of the coalition had made statements supporting the actions of ALF or the like?

      If we want to start justifying secrecy in government based on the argument that a "public safety problem" can be imagined why have open records law at all if we endorse exceptions that swallow the rule?


    FOIA law (none / 0) (#30)
    by litigatormom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:42:05 AM EST
    recognizes exemptions from the disclosure requirements for certain personal information, and also where disclosure would imperil public safety.

    You can argue about whether those exemptions apply in any particular case, but I would say that if you have good reason, based on the conduct of the persons seeking disclosure, to believe that such disclosure may result in the commission of crimes, the FOIA commission can deny disclosure. In the case I am talking about, certain individuals have received threats of physical violence, including death, as a result of their perceived sympathy for or work with undocumented aliens. That's not speculation.


    Is it documented (none / 0) (#32)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:49:40 AM EST
    that those threats came from the persons signing the FOIA request? If not, would you endorse the idea that government need not establish a direct connection between the person requesting the withheld public documents and past unlawfulness.

      If good ol' law-abiding me wanted a document should I be denied access because other people who share some of my views have done something bad before?


    Some of those threats are documented (none / 0) (#34)
    by litigatormom on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 01:29:27 PM EST
    as coming from the persons requesting.

    But once records have been disclosed to one member of the public, they have been in practice disseminated to all.  Anyone else can ask the government for them, or get them from the original requester.  Some of the threats come from other groups affiliated from the requesters, and there would be no way of preventing the records from being given to still other groups that have made threats.


    Yes and that's the point (none / 0) (#35)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 01:34:16 PM EST
     your rationale gives the government justification to suppress public information in almost any circumstance whatsoever because once released its no longer controlled by the government and  proffered possibility that upon learning the information someone might do something bad is irrefutable because it's always possible.

      If we read the public safety excpetion that broadly what is is left of the law?


    I am not reading it that broadly (none / 0) (#38)
    by litigatormom on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 09:32:56 AM EST
    I'm reading it consistent with the public safety exception.  That exception does not require that someone prove to a certainty that public safety will be endangered.

    The information in question, by the way, is not information about how the program works, how its funded, how it is administered, etc. That's already out in the public domain. What is being protected are the names and addresses of people who have been the subject of threats of physical violence.


    nice study (none / 0) (#22)
    by DandyTIger on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:00:43 AM EST
    It's great to see a little light and reality on this issue. And not at all surprising. The heat over this subject seems to be there whenever there are big waves of immigration in this country. Perhaps this is true in all countries.

    The illegal aspect of the immigration and open borders aspects are certainly worth debating. Personally I'd be fine with the borders being pretty open just on the theory that not that many people really would come over. And you know, don't fence me in man. But of course if this country looks a lot better than everywhere else, hello to the new 6 billion members of the US. So some limits seem reasonable.

    Lou Dobbs is really just a ratings whore. Come on. I'm not sure he really cares one way or the other. So I don't get heated up about him or others on the right. But he does seem to yell a lot about the criminal aspect of the problem, so maybe this will calm him down. Yea, right.

    The interesting thing about this issue is, the republicans can't really do much with it this election cycle because McCain was on the side of Bush (i.e., the corporations) for that immigration solution. I have mixed feelings about that plan with it's guest worker ideas. Seems a bit like indentured servitude to me. But then so does being an illegal immigrant in many ways.

    It's true (none / 0) (#26)
    by tek on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:19:39 AM EST
    in this country because of our economic system which is inconsistent with our political system.  One reason Americans get upset with immigration waves is because, historically, corporations take advantage of new immigrants in the labor market. This usually involves getting rid of entrenched labor because the inexperienced immigrants can be easily abused.  That is absolutely happening with illegal Hispanics.  That should be the discussion surrounding these people.

    People are not illegal (none / 0) (#28)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:21:26 AM EST
    the term is undocumented residents here.

    The GOP Is Obviously (none / 0) (#31)
    by squeaky on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:44:42 AM EST
    Using the Bush Doctrine here to root out future criminals. Preemptive strikes against innocent immigrants now, because in three generations they may be criminals, is perfectly consistent with BushCo foreign policy.

    While, as an LA resident,, (none / 0) (#33)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 01:29:23 PM EST
    I have had some similar experiences as tek, from other experiences with the undocumented it does not surprise me that many are less likely to commit violent crimes.

    They certainly know that they are here illegally, and do everything they can to avoid unnecessary detection by law enforcement.

    However, although many often avoid the violent crimes that would bring such unwanted attention, the large majority eagerly embrace such less obvious crimes like document forgery, using stolen or false SS#'s, not filing nor paying taxes (all the under-the-table workers), etc.

    Also there is a good number of the undocumented who ARE in the US here criminally because despite already being apprehended and deported or ordered to leave, they've stayed or come back.

    Lastly, despite the relatively low rate of violent crime found in the study, how much is acceptable?

    iow, if, say, those here illegally kill 100 people each year, if they weren't here - and they shouldn't be here - those 100 people would still be alive.

    How many violent crimes like murder, rapes, robbery, etc., by those here illegally is acceptable?

    No, the average immigrant who's here illegally is not some rabid animal looking to kill, rape and steal, etc., in fact, mostly they're very friendly and hardworking people (just like you and I when we're looking for a job), and I absolutely support a guest worker program, but to in order to have reasonable and productive dialogue on the subject I think you must acknowledge that there are factual and significant negatives associated with illegal immigration.

    I think if you don't do so, no one but your unblinking choir will respect what you say.

    an anecdoctal example (none / 0) (#39)
    by diogenes on Sat Mar 22, 2008 at 04:40:42 PM EST
     The alleged gang member accused of killing Los Angeles high school football star Jamiel Shaw is in the country illegally and had been released from jail without anyone questioning his citizenship the day before Shaw's shooting, according to a report by MyFOXLA.com.