Drop in violent crime tied to immigration?

U. COLORADO (US)—During the 1990s, immigration reached record highs and crime rates fell more precipitously than at any time in U.S. history. And cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in rates of homicide and robbery.

The findings by Tim Wadsworth, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, contradict much of the public rhetoric about the relationship between immigration and crime.

As the Arizona Republic reported this month, violent crime in that state’s border towns has remained essentially flat during the past decade even as drug-trade violence on the other side of the border has burgeoned.

The presumed link between immigration and crime has a long history in the United States and overseas. Wadsworth contends that looking at crime statistics at a single point in time can’t explain the cause of crime rates.

Using such snapshots in time, Wadsworth finds that cities with larger foreign-born and new-immigrant populations do have higher rates of violent crime. But many factors—including economic conditions—influence crime rates.

If higher rates of immigration were boosting crime rates, one would expect long-term studies to show crime rising and falling over time with the influx and exodus of immigrants. Instead, Wadsworth found the opposite.

Wadsworth’s work tested the hypothesis, famously advanced by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson, that the rise in immigration could be related to the drop in crime rates.

Wadsworth noticed Sampson’s argument in a 2006 New York Times op-ed piece. As Wadsworth recalled, “My reaction was that this is really interesting, and it’s a very testable question.”

New research supports Sampson’s hypothesis, Wadsworth reports in the Social Science Quarterly.

“Cities that experienced greater growth in immigrant or new-immigrant populations between 1990 and 2000 tended to demonstrate sharper decreases in homicide and robbery,” Wadsworth writes. “The suggestion that high levels of immigration may have been partially responsible for the drop in crime during the 1990s seems plausible.”

Drawing from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports and U.S. Census data, Wadsworth analyzed 459 cities with populations of at least 50,000. Wadsworth measured immigrant populations in two ways: those who are foreign-born and those who immigrated within the previous five years.

Wadsworth focused on medium and large cities because about 80 percent of violent crime takes place there. Wadsworth says distinguishing legal and illegal immigration is difficult, as the U.S. Census does not track those numbers, but he notes that immigrant citizens and non-citizens often live together in the same communities.

He tracked crime statistics for homicide and robbery because they tend to be reported more consistently than other crimes. Robberies are usually committed by strangers—which increases the reporting rate—and “homicides are difficult to hide,” he says.

Using long-term analyses, Wadsworth notes, cities that experienced the largest growth in the proportion of foreign-born and newly arrived immigrant populations experienced larger decreases in violent crime between 1990 and 2000. That finding, Wadsworth wrote, “suggests that Sampson may be right—that immigration may be partly responsible for the decrease in violent crime.”

Wadsworth’s research suggests that, controlling for a variety of other factors, growth in the new immigrant population was responsible, on average, for 9.3 percent of the decline in homicide rates, and that growth in total immigration was, on average, responsible for 22.2 percent of the decrease in robbery rates.

Exactly why growth in immigration is accompanying decreases in violent crime is hard to determine with city-level data. Some have suggested that immigrant communities are often characterized by extended family networks, lower levels of divorce, and cultural and religious beliefs that facilitate community integration.

Wadsworth notes that “criminologists have long known that these factors provide buffers against crime.”

“From the late 1800s to the present, the association between immigration and crime has been a center point of anti-immigrant discourse and public policy,” Wadsworth writes. “Although there has been scant empirical research to support such claims, they have persisted with little debate.”

More news from the University of Colorado: www.colorado.edu/news/

chat46 Comments

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46 Comments

  1. Sam

    Does this study differentiate legal immigrants with illegal/documented immigrants? That is the $64,000 question that connects to the pubic rhetoric…is there a link between crime and *illegal* immigration?

  2. Nick

    Of course, they also began enforcing mandatory minimum sentances in the 1990’s which took more of the bad apples out of circulation for longer periods of time. Why doesn’t the federal government break down crime statistics between whites and latinos? Why do they lump them altogether? If we look at incarceration rates, latinos are incarcerated about 3x’s higher than whites.

  3. John Galt

    I wonder if they controlled for economic growth rates? Presumably immigrants will be attracted to cities where they can find jobs – and prosperity is inversely correlated with crime (think Detroit or NYC in the 70s).

  4. Will

    Sam’s point is a good one. Are people who are predisposed to breaking immigration laws more inclined to commit other crimes? Also, the study shows a correlation, but how to we know what caused what? The study suggests that immigration caused a drop in crime, but could it be the other way around? That is, could it be that cities trending towards better economic/living conditions attracted more immigrants?

  5. Achillea

    Sam > From the article above: “Wadsworth says distinguishing legal and illegal immigration is difficult, as the U.S. Census does not track those numbers, but he notes that immigrant citizens and non-citizens often live together in the same communities.”

    My guess is there may be a ‘keeping their heads down’ factor in play. Both the ones who are here illegally and the ones who are working toward citizenship are trying not to attract the attention of the law, so they’re on their best behavior.

  6. anton

    I see that he has managed to completely ignore the composition of the prison population. a quick look at say, California’s, prison population would confirm that the immigrant (normally illegal) population is largely overrepresented among the inmates as opposed to the general population.

    In Detroit the violent crime has declined because the population has essentially dissappeared over the last decade.

  7. Linda

    Immigrants–legal and illegal–are more likely to be married and have children under 18, factors which are negatively correlated with crime. Virtually all studies that have carefully looked at the link between crime and immigration report the same results as this one The only studies that purport to show a link between illegal immigration and crime use statistics on incarceration for immigration-related offenses. What is even more remarkable about this and other studies showing a drop in crime as immigration increased (and, of course, this is a correlation, not proof of cause and effect) is that immigrants–especially illegal immigrants–tend to be in the cohort most likely to commit crimes: males between ages of 15-30.

  8. Joel

    I wonder if the lower crime rate is a result of fear of deportation. Crime is always lower where the population is living in fear of the government. Is this becoming an argument for more illegals – to reduce our crime!?! I don’t want an underclass living in fear in this country. Should we then reduce crime by all of us becoming afraid of our government?
    This is why we need enforcement at the border, so we don’t put these people through this in the first place. Then we may have time and resources to enforce our other laws.

  9. Half Canadian

    It isn’t the immigrants that you need to watch out for, it is their kids. The generation that came from illegal immigrants is the one you need to fear.

  10. Kete

    Nick and anton, the irony of racist law enforcement is lost on you two.

  11. DensityDuck

    @Achillea @Joel: Yes, that’s the first thing I thought. What group of people would LEAST want the cops to be around? Illegal immigrants, of course.

    Note, though, that this is statistics, and you can prove anything if you look at the statistics properly.

    1) Is this REPORTED crime, or ACTUAL crime? “How did you get that stab wound?” “His knife went off by accident, officer, we’re perfectly all right, no need to investigate, please don’t check our green cards.”

    2) Is this crime of any kind committed by anyone, or is it specific-type-of-crime committed by specific-type-of-person? “Well, this was a crime against property committed by a nonresident, so we don’t have to report it in the crime statistics. Hey, whaddya know, crime’s down this year!”

  12. Dwight

    To answer Sam, there is some evidence to show that cities with large illegal immigrant populations also benefit from lower crime rates. Here’s a quick article on that, with a focus on El Paso, which despite being just yards from the murder capital of the world,, remains one of America’s safest cities:

    http://reason.com/archives/2009/07/06/the-el-paso-miracle

    I suspect that “keeping your head down” is indeed an important reason for this. Especially when combined with a fear of the police that’s both rooted in the home country and quite rational if you’re in the country illegally.

    But equally important is the self-selection that occurs: immigrants are precisely those people motivate to move to a foreign and possibly hostile land and work their butts off when they get there. Illegal immigrants are also clearly willing to risk prison or violence to accomplish this. Those traits are probably negatively correlated with criminality, because criminals really are lazy scum who have little ability to plan for the long term. Immigrants, by contrast, are clearly willing to sacrifice short term security and safety for the possibility of long term gain.

    Just the people we’d want to come here, I’d say.

  13. Gonzo

    Agenda driven tripe.

    “Crime” is not lower.

    Crime reporting is lower. Cooperation of witnesses is lower. The ability of the state apparatus to learn of criminal episodes is lower. The willingness of victims of crime to take recourse to the state apparatus is lower, although private vendettas and vigilantism is higher — those incidents are also not reported.

    This is similar to the situation where the entire illegal “under the table” i.e., “hang out at home improvement stores and get hired for day labor” workforce was not counted, either in employment numbers or (later) in unemployment numbers.

    People in areas with high immigration experience more crime. They know it and understand it. A report that fails to sample a lot of the crime because a characteristic of the population being examined biases their willingness to report crime or cooperate in its investigation proves exactly zilch.

    Even absent the sampling problem, the premise of this article seems to mistake correlation with causation. Next thing you know you’ll be telling us that ice cream consumption causes murder since both spike in the summer months.

  14. Grace O'Malley

    Why I think the studies author ought to go explain his findings to the folks who live in Holland Michigan. As may be imagined it is a Dutch originated city which traditionally had very little crime. It was a very clean, lovely town on the Lake Michigan shore. Today it has it’s mini ghetto areas as does Grand Rapids which was once a majority Dutch town that was much like Holland except with a larger population.

    Holland however has experienced a hitherto unknown phenomenon called gang activity. With it has come a spike in crime including arson and drive by shootings. Now I know it’s just goofy of me to not blame that on those wild Dutch kids and instead look to the large increase in the Hispanic population who funny enough refuse to cooperate with the police, even though other witnesses have identified the shooters as Hispanic. Obviously they were just lying racists protecting their own Dutch kiddies while blaming the new brown folks in town.

    But then we know how those Calvinists are don’t we Dwight?

  15. ak

    “the irony of racist law enforcement”

    In cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Atlanta, what percentage of the police force is black? In LA, San Diego, Houston, Miami, etc., what percentage is Latino?

    Are those black and Latino cops racist, too?

  16. illegal != legal

    A very deceptive headline and article.

    As Sam pointed out in the very first comment, it is important to differentiate between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants.

    The conflation of these two groups is dishonest and misleading, and undercuts any persuasiveness this purported statistical correlation might have otherwise had.

  17. Goose

    By definition ILLEGAL immigration is a crime. Is that statistic on crime reported as crime? I do not find it hard to believe AT ALL that an INCREASE in LEGAL immigration results in lower crime as I believe legal immigrants, and not those here illegally or on overstayed student visas or whatever, are among the most fervent Americans around. They really had to work at it and not just wake up American. If you are born in the USA and have done nothing FOR the USA (Peace Corp, Military, National Guard, Coast Guard, etc) just shut up. You’re part of the problem.

  18. Queasy Malanga

    Sigh. Here we go again.

    Anyone who is over forty and paid attention to politics back in the 70’s will recognize this phenomenon. It’s the infamous “everything the rubes believe is false, everything the elites believe is true” study from some university somewhere. We used to get them monthly back then, only the issue du jour was welfare.

    To recap: The regular folks turned against the Great Society in the early seventies, convinced the welfare state was making the cities worse. The elites disagreed and always had a study “proving” welfare made cities better, safer, richer, etc… Of course, the rubes turned out to be right, the elites wrong, and we delayed much needed reforms for two decades. A lot of lives were stunted, all because the academic elites couldn’t admit they were wrong.

    This study looks like more of the same to me. And throw in those silly studies that “prove” current immigration is an economic boon as well. As with welfare before, the academics will defend their toxic ideas, in this case multiculturalism and mass immigration, like a mama bear defends her children, and that defense includes publishing studies like these. The elites love their mass-immigration-without-assimilation experiment, and will not let a little thing like its failure get in their way.

    I’ll let you in on a little secret — many academics hate American society. American society doesn’t offer enough power or deference to academics…. it’s too meritocratic and flat for their tastes (well. at least it used to be) and far, far too middle class. They’d much prefer a third-world socio-economic structure — with academics entrenched in the ruling elite, a small, captive, government depended middle class, and a large, docile underclass… an underclass who know who their betters are, and treats them with the proper respect. Why else import tens of millions from the third world but prevent them from shedding the culture, attitudes, and mores that made them poor in the first place? It sure as heck ain’t to improve them or America…anyone who understands the world can see that.

    Expect many more “studies” like this one to appear over the next few months.

  19. Chris

    Did he ever consider that the same time frame he was studying also corresponded to a significant drop in crime nation wide? And that also corresponded to a large increase in state laws allowing for private citizens to carry concealed handguns in defense of themselves.

    He cannot say that immigration (legal or otherwise) caused this any more than he could say that the increase in the number of personal computers in homes did. And they also jumped in ownership a large amount during that time frame.

  20. Kete

    Goose, a lot of “illegal” visitors are “illegal” despite their best efforts at following all of the requirements to become legal, so they aren’t illegal; they’re simply in limbo.

    Queasy Malanga, the middle class is indeed a very big group as is the poor, but the rich owns most of America by far.

  21. Stray

    Whoever wrote this is sadly mistaken (I prefer though to call him an idiot). Those of us who live out here know better. Then illegal or not, we have this garbage to put up with:

    http://www.streetgangs.com/news/092809_babyshooting

    And to Kete, Wahhh!

  22. anninarizona

    Two additional points: LEGAL immigrants have undergone background checks as part of the visa/green card application process, which makes them more likely to be law-abiding folks than the average American citizen in their demographic; and they are aware that violating any law makes them vulnerable to deportation. This is why it is CRUCIAL for everyone in this debate to distinguish between the legal and illegal immigrant. And why the left seeks to obfuscate the distinction at every opportunity.

  23. LL

    This article plays fast and loose with the term “crime.” The study was done on “violent crime,” but the generalization is stretched to “crime” several places in the article, such as this passage, “If higher rates of immigration were boosting crime rates, one would expect long-term studies to show crime rising and falling over time with the influx and exodus of immigrants. Instead, Wadsworth found the opposite.” No, Wadsworth did NOT find the opposite; he found that one sector of crime was lower and the writer falsely generalized.

    I have heard that illegal immigration is tied to things such as human trafficking and prostitution; slavery; cruelty to animals (as in dogfighting and cockfighting, horse tripping, animal neglect, transporting horses for the purpose of slaughter, etc.); identity fraud and theft; production, distribution and sales of knockoffs of consumer items like designer goods, dvds, cds… I don’t think it is legal to work and not file or pay income taxes, or use a fake drivers license. Wadsworth chose to study robbery and murder because it was easy to get the stats. Of course, it will always be easy to get stats for existing data, what about whole new areas of crime for which there is no precedent, like id theft? Immigration or illegal immigration, may very well have a high relationship with new types of crime for which there are no statistics, such as the recent spate of horse killings in Florida and the rise of illegal slaughterhouses. These crimes may not mean much to him, but I think the victims would disagree.

  24. Ross Amans

    This report got it all wrong, and if you read it, you will only get untruths.
    What dropped was REPORTED crime rates. Immigrants, legal and illegal, are less likely to report crime, as they have strong memories of their homeland police. The smart thing to do in many countries, including the US, is to avoid contact with the police if at all possible. Of course, illegal immigrants are afraid of getting arrested, so the only crimes they ever get reported involve the police finding bodies. And crime rates drop because the criminals know they can prey on people who will not report crimes, so they focus more on immigrants, especially illegals, instead of people who might report the crimes.

    Studies show that only 10% of crimes, overall, are reported. And 10% of reported crimes result in an arrest, And 10% of arrests result in a conviction. These rates actually drop for insular communities, like immigrants.

    Also, higher immigration means that the police are stretched more.

    Gonzo above gets it right.

  25. issy54

    My take on this is that areas with more immigration benefit from an enhanced economy, (more workers, more jobs, more money flowing through the economy), and a better economy means a lower crime rate. Seems obvious.

  26. Stray

    issy54 – That’s a blatant lie that the bleeding hearts want you to believe. I live in a “good” neighborhood and can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to repaint over the grafiti on my house. How many times I was accosted at Circle-K by gangbangers trying to mug me (I carry a Glock, they are always most surprised when I offer them a grave instead of money). And I can’t count the number of high-paying “white” jobs (plumbers, truckers, etc.) that were replaced with Mexicans who think $7 an hour is great and employers are stupid to pay $20 or $30 an hour. For your $7 an hour you get crappy sub-standard work like they are used to doing in Mexico. One of the fun things too is buying a used car that used to belong to a Mexican and find out all of the repairs were made with bubble gum and speaker wire because they also think it’s stupid to spend $600 to fix a car correctly.

  27. frenzy

    Stray, that’s a bourgeois concern. Graffiti is art, self-expression; property values are alienation: you’re not yourself; you’re a good homeowner. It’s ridiculous how there’s no middle ground here: immigrants are either okay or spawns of Satan. Ironically, this comes from descendants of immigrants who wiped out an entire continent of relatively defenseless people, half of whom were living in a freaking paradise that they were happy to share.

    Nobody should ever work, but I’ve never seen “crappy sub-standard work like they are used to doing in Mexico.” Not even close, I’ve seen people busting their butts to do incredible labor. The most fun thing to do is to read hateful Web content from bigots.

  28. Stray

    If find it funny Frenzy, that you pick on the innocuous subject of graffiti. Two things though, I find it to be vandalism, I didn’t become an adult so that I could spend my time and money repainting my house every weekend, but I discovered years ago that a well-placed baseball bat ended that problem. Second, we aren’t talking artistic expression, we’re talking about macho little Juan the gangbanger letting the world know that he’s here.

    As for their crappy work I take it you weren’t around Phoenix 20 years ago when all of the builders were sued because of 6 month old houses falling apart? Foundations cracking, windows literally falling out of the walls, all sorts of fun things.

    I notice though that you don’t bring up subjects like gangbangers, drive-by shootings, houses getting broke into, heinous murders (rape and dismemberment, those kind of fun things from these peaceful folks). I have personally lived through a bunch of it, call me lucky.

  29. Adrian, Adrien Hale

    I have heard that illegal immigration is tied to things such as human trafficking and prostitution; slavery; cruelty to animals (as in dogfighting and cockfighting, horse tripping, animal neglect, transporting horses for the purpose of slaughter, etc.); identity fraud and theft; production, distribution and sales of knockoffs of consumer items like designer goods, dvds, cds… I don’t think it is legal to work and not file or pay income taxes, or use a fake drivers license. Wadsworth chose to study robbery and murder because it was easy to get the stats. Of course, it will always be easy to get stats for existing data, what about whole new areas of crime for which there is no precedent, like id theft? Immigration or illegal immigration, may very well have a high relationship with new types of crime for which there are no statistics, such as the recent spate of horse killings in Florida and the rise of illegal slaughterhouses. These crimes may not mean much to him, but I think the victims would disagree.
    +1

  30. Darryl jones

    http://www.timespublications.com/nov07-feature1.asp

    interesting illustration of one possible side effect of placing too much of a communities resources in one basket.

  31. kennet

    the middle class is indeed a very big group as is the poor, but the rich owns most of America by far.

  32. michael

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  33. Sam

    Does this study differentiate legal immigrants with illegal/documented immigrants? That is the $64,000 question that connects to the pubic rhetoric…is there a link between crime and *illegal* immigration?

  34. Julia

    Nick and anton, the irony of racist law enforcement is lost on you two.

  35. Anthony

    I don’t think it is legal to work and not file or pay income taxes, or use a fake drivers license.

  36. Malugat

    The suggestion that high levels of immigration may have been partially responsible for the drop in crime during the 1990s seems plausible.

  37. Ferme de Sainte Marthe

    I notice though that you don’t bring up subjects like gangbangers, drive-by shootings, houses getting broke into, heinous murders (rape and dismemberment, those kind of fun things from these peaceful folks). I have personally lived through a bunch of it, call me lucky.

  38. Changer de vie

    Wadsworth’s work tested the hypothesis, famously advanced by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson, that the rise in immigration could be related to the drop in crime rates.

  39. Stray

    I notice also that all of our prisons from Texas to California must be filled with really tan white guys? Or are all those tens of thousands of prisoners just the fallout from those racist cops? LOL

  40. Bienfaits orties

    hy do they lump them altogether? If we look at incarceration rates, latinos are incarcerated about 3x’s higher than whites.

  41. Maison sur orleans

    The suggestion that high levels of immigration may have been partially responsible for the drop in crime during the 1990s seems plausible.

  42. Ortie blanche

    The study suggests that immigration caused a drop in crime, but could it be the other way around? That is, could it be that cities trending towards better economic/living conditions attracted more immigrants?

  43. Montres Diesel

    wow….great post…can’t wait to read more of this. congrats.

  44. Adidasi originali

    Very nice writing..Thanks for showing this with us.

  45. Alissa

    I agree. The crime rate that went to the park with lots of people knows how to party westardly

  46. Jayden Eden

    Recently my friend and I were discussing violence over pizza. http://www.pizzaheavenbistro.com/Pizza_Heaven_Bistro/History.html I think it’s ridiculous. I feel like some people only do it for publicity.

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