The past few weeks Donald Trump has been capturing the headlines with his comments about most illegal immigrants coming from Mexico being violent criminals. While it is true that violent criminals have crossed the border to cause trouble, various studies have shown that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes or be behind bars than the native-born American population. I fully sympathize with those families who have suffered from violent crime. I think violent criminals should be imprisoned. But the vast majority of illegal immigrants who are not violent criminals should not be punished for stereotypes that Donald Trump is perpetuating.
The Immigration Policy Center recently released a report titled The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States. The report stated:
For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, th…e overwhelming majority of immigrants are not ‘criminals’ by any commonly accepted definition of the term. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime.
Unfortunately, immigration policy is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence. As a result, immigrants have the stigma of “criminality” ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration-enforcement mechanisms. Put differently, immigrants are being defined more and more as threats. Whole new classes of “felonies” have been created which apply only to immigrants, deportation has become a punishment for even minor offenses, and policies aimed at trying to end unauthorized immigration have been made more punitive rather than more rational and practical. In short, immigrants themselves are being criminalized.
Robert J. Sampson wrote an article for the American Prospect title Immigration and America’s Urban Revival. Sampson wrote:
Although certainly not the only factor, immigration deserves attention as part of the answer for the nation’s crime decline and urban revitalization. Immigrants have gravitated to many of the urban areas that were most distressed 40 years ago and have contributed to their economic revival. Contrary to widespread beliefs, high concentrations of immigrants are also associated with lower crime rates.
…Immigration may affect crime rates, first of all, because of who chooses to immigrate—a factor that social scientists refer to as “selection bias.” Although there are exceptions, it is widely recognized that most immigrants, Mexicans in particular, selectively migrate to the United States based on characteristics that predispose them to low crime, such as motivation to work and ambition. First-generation immigrants (those born outside the United States) may also be more law-abiding because of their interest in not being deported. The population of the United States now includes more than 40 million foreign-born people. If they are, as the evidence suggests, predisposed to lower crime, they increase the denominator of the crime rate while rarely appearing in the numerator.
Second, the composition of the immigrant population may also be a critical determinant of community welfare and public health. Latinos tend to do better on various indicators of well-being than do other socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. In Chicago, my colleagues and I found a significantly lower rate of violence among Mexican Americans compared to blacks and whites. Moreover, first-generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans, adjusting for individual, family, and neighborhood background. Second-generation immigrants were 22 percent less likely to commit violence than the third generation. This pattern held true for non-Hispanic whites and blacks as well, and took into account poverty and other relevant social characteristics such as income, marital status, and even individual “IQ.” And when we controlled for immigrant status, Mexican Americans no longer had lower rates of violence than blacks and whites. Immigrant status thus appears to result in lower levels of violence among all groups—blacks, whites, and Latinos—but many more Latinos are foreign born.
Third, we showed that living in a neighborhood of concentrated immigration was associated with lower violence (again, after taking into account a host of correlated factors, including poverty and an individual’s immigrant status). Rather than generating crime, high concentrations of immigrants appear to reduce it. An average male is almost 25 percent more likely to engage in violence if he lives in a high-risk neighborhood without many immigrants than if he lives in a high-risk immigrant neighborhood.
In 2010, CNN’s Carol Costello investigates whether there is a link between violent crime and illegal immigrants
Some Mexican immigrants interviewed by FOX 10 news acknowledge that every nationality has it’s criminals, but they say the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are good, hard working people