Debunking The Myth Of Immigrant Criminality

Photo courtesy of Britt Selvitelle

In today’s volatile political and social climate, there are those who cast aspersions on our immigrant communities by maliciously conflating them with criminality. However, as numerous studies from the last three decades have shown time and time again, more immigrants don’t increase crime. In fact, they are largely less crime-prone than their U.S. citizen counterparts.

President Trump has wielded tribalist anxiety to whip some Americans into a frenzy, demonizing the “other” to serve his own agenda, including funding “The Wall” that is falsely seen as a cure to our country’s ills. But, one would imagine to make such the bold claim that immigrants are making America less safe would require the data to prove it. If such data existed, anti-immigrant fear mongers would parade around the figures. But, if they stuck with empirical stats, their argument easily falls apart.

The nonpartisan Cato Institute has already debunked the nativist narrative in a 2015 report that examines statistics from local municipalities, U.S. Census data, and information gathered from the American Community Survey. Across the board, they found that increased rates of immigration simply did not have impacts on crime. Cato analyst Alex Nowrasteh writes:

Reid et al. 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.

“We combine 2000 US Census data and 2000 Uniform Crime Report data to explore how the foreign-born population influences criminal offending across a sample of metropolitan areas. After controlling for a host of demographic and economic characteristics, we find that immigration does not increase crime rates, and some aspects of immigration lessen crime in metropolitan areas,” states the abstract of the 2005 study.

Nowrasteh concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes for a variety of reasons, including the fact that a portion of immigrants face the additional consequence of potential deportation.

“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,” Nowrasteh writes.

As anti-immigrant fanatics often do, they tend to obscure or ignore the facts to further their mass deportation agenda based on their much-heralded concepts of public safety and a misrepresentation of “American values.” Bearing the empirical truth in hand, maybe it’s time to press them for real answers as to why they want to remove immigrants—legal and otherwise—from the United States. The truth might just be uglier than they let on.