Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Myth of Illegal Immigration Crime

If you asked most people, they would indicate to you that an increase of immigration (legal and illegal) would spell the doom of their community. "There goes the neighborhood." But a new study would find fault with this assumption. Study: Immigrant crime rate low:
The Orange County Register

IRVINE – Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, according to a study released Monday by a UC Irvine professor for the Immigration Policy Center, based in Washington D.C.

UCI sociology professor Ruben Rumbaut found that immigrants of all national backgrounds were incarcerated at much lower rates than their American-born counterparts, according to the 2000 Census. The numbers applied to both legal and illegal immigrants.

His study also described a precipitous drop in crime rates nationwide throughout recent years – a period during which immigration has been at all-time record high. "While immigration is going up, crime is going down," Rumbaut said. "I think it's important to get the facts out there."

"Even as the undocumented population has doubled to 12 million since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent," according to the report.

That crime drop was true even in cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles or Miami, the report said. Orange County was not studied specifically.

According to the study, 3.5 percent of American-born men aged 18 to 39 were incarcerated in jails or prisons in 2000, compared to 0.7 percent of foreign-born men – five times higher.

The risk of incarceration went up significantly by the second or third generations of immigrants, according to the study.

John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on immigration reform, disputed the results of the study and said census data for incarcerated and other institutionalized people were flawed in 2000.

Keeley added that migrant communities tend to underreport crimes and that all immigrant criminals might not be in jail.

Keeley also said that the children of immigrants posed a crime problem not considered in the statistics.

"That is something we intend to monitor in terms of gang activity and truancy," Keeley said.

Rumbaut co-authored the study with Harvard University professor Walter A. Ewing.

They reported that "the impression that immigration and criminality are linked" is a myth fueled by political expediency and groups with outside agendas.

Rumbaut said politicians frequently exploit fears about immigrant crime for their own purposes – or pander to uninformed voters. While immigrants may underreport crimes, the data still holds true for homicides and other crimes that are fully reported, he said.

"There has been a Mount Everest of data going back 100 years that indicates immigrants have a low crime rate," Rumbaut said.

So why do we continue to associate immigration with violent crime and property crime? And please spare me the line about all illegal immigrants already having committed a crime by being here. It's not constructive and it's not relevant to this study.

A lot of it is human nature. Throughout history, we have tried to blame the outsiders for anything that goes wrong (Jews, Italians, Irish, etc.). A lot of it is xenophobia. "Those people don't look like us or sound like us. They don't worship the right God."

And a lot of it is that those people that we should be able to trust to be level-headed and truthful mislead us. President Bush's Immigration Reform Address
"Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities."

If you have concerns about immigration ... fine. Many people have valid ones. But don't try to pretty up your racism by saying that you are only concerned about our safety.


Scott said...

News stories that emphasize the fact that perpetrators are immigrants obviously help perpetuate the lie. As well as the fact that there is a specific criminal element that is imported by our government's drug laws. However, the solution to that problem is ending prohibition, not banning immigration.

Laura said...

Not that I disagree with the article and the premise, I think it's a myth as well, especially for people who work so hard to come here and achieve the "dream". But I have to question the measurement. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't illegal immigrants and those on visas more likely to be deported than incarcerated for a crime? If so, are these people being accounted for and if so, how?

dbackdad said...

Scott said, "News stories that emphasize the fact that perpetrators are immigrants obviously help perpetuate the lie." -- absolutely. Couldn't agree more

Laura -- I wondered the same thing. I read the whole 20 page document (which I link to in my post) and could find no mention of it. They have to realize that they are hurting the point that they are trying to make by ommitting (or not taking into account) that info.

Sadie Lou said...

I'm going to agree with the first part of Bush's statement: puts pressure on our public schools and hospitals--how can it not?
Illegal immigrants get the same government assistance as American born citizens right?

dbackdad said...

Sadie -- I knew including that part of his speech would get us off track. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you on those. I just didn't want to just put an ellipsis there and have you guys wonder what he said. My inclusion of his statement was only to stress that he personally was saying that illegal immigration equated to more crime.

Sadie Lou said...

Oh. Okay. Well I don't want to get off topic--I see now that you put emphasis on the part of the statement you wanted to address.

dbackdad said...

Ha-ha. I'm the king of getting off-topic. You're much better at corraling commenters on your blog than I am on mine.