Immigrants to the United States are considerably less likely than American-born citizens to commit crimes or to be incarcerated. This is a well-known fact. But listening to the President, his staff, and his followers, you would think that immigrants commit all the worst crimes in the United States based on a bunch of unfounded, nonsensical rhetoric.
In order to understand why the numbers of immigrants who commit crimes are so low, it’s critical to understand why immigrants have fewer interactions with the criminal justice system in general.
Immigrants are subject to various kinds of formal and informal screening. In other words, institutions are incentivized to receive migrants who have an advantage that is relative to their origin-country counterparts, making them less disposed to commit crimes. Self-selection of low-crime-propensity immigrants into the United States appears to the biggest driver. Not deportation. In fact, deportation is not a factor in low crime rates among immigrants.
The broader question of how immigrants as a group affect crime rates requires an understanding of how changes in the legal status of immigrants can affect crime statistics. Evidence suggests that providing legal resident status to immigrants causes a reduction in crime. This is due to the increased employment opportunities for immigrants resulting in a substantial increase in the risk/costs of committing a crime.
However, restricting access to legal statuses also greatly limits employment opportunities for immigrants. This does lead to an increased crime rate, but mainly in regards to generating income. In total, unauthorized immigration does not have a significant effect on rates of violent crime or property crime.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has even weighed in declaring that while the overall percentage of immigrants (and the number of undocumented immigrants) in the United States both increased between 1990 and 2010, the violent crime rate during that time plummeted an astounding 45 percent and the property crime rate dropped by 42 percent.
Studies have also consistently found that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than American born citizens. Countless other studies have reinforced these facts, finding that the lowest crime-rates are found in states with the highest immigration growth rates.
Study findings also indicate that immigrant youth are more likely than their American born peers to report cohesive parental relationships, positive school engagement, and disapproving views with respect to adolescent substance use.
In counties that have put policies in place limiting cooperation with federal authorities (upholding the Fourth Amendment), crime rates are considerably lower than in counties without these so-called sanctuary policies.
The Trump administration’s implementation of its own draconian immigration policy agenda, outside of the law, has brought the issue of sanctuary policies back into the spotlight. Aside from the misinformation drawing a connection between immigration and an increase in crime, these sanctuary jurisdictions have also become a focus of the debate.
To be clear, sanctuary counties and/or cities are defined as jurisdictions that have chosen to not assist federal immigration enforcement officials by holding people in custody. Using an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dataset obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center provides new insights about how sanctuary jurisdictions perform across a range of social and economic indicators when compared to non-sanctuary jurisdictions.
According to the dataset, crime is considerably lower in sanctuary jurisdictions. Additionally, sanctuary jurisdictions boast stronger economies; higher median household income, less poverty, less reliance on public assistance, higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment.
Looking at the numbers you will see that there are 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people, the median household annual income is typically about $4,000 higher, the poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, and unemployment is 1.1 percent lower. These results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions when compared to non-sanctuary jurisdictions.
The data also suggests that communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy when local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts. This, in turn, brings obvious benefits to individual households, communities, and the economy as a whole.
The 68 largest Law Enforcement Agencies represented in the The Major Cities Chiefs Association, also concluded that the commingling of local police with federal immigration enforcement efforts “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”
The bottom line is that crime is considerably lower and economies are significantly stronger in sanctuary jurisdictions compared to non-sanctuary jurisdictions. These data-supported arguments made by law enforcement executives are very clear in determining that communities are safer when law enforcement agencies do not become entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts.
These same data-supported arguments provide additional evidence that when counties protect all of their residents, they see significant economic gains. By keeping out of federal immigration enforcement, sanctuary jurisdictions are keeping families together thus strengthening local economies. Keeping families and households intact allows individuals to continue contributing to the economic output of the community bringing much greater benefit.
A lot of what you hear regarding immigrants and crime is born of, and a continuation of, hateful rhetoric that dates back over 100 years. The unfounded claims being espoused today are no different than that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these same things were said about the Irish, Italians, Catholics, and yes Mexicans.
Much of this rhetoric is what is known as dog whistles. We hear it all the time from all aspects of American society. None more pronounced than that of Donald Trump. His rhetoric is the most dangerous because of his position of power. It’s one thing to hear David Duke, Jeff Sessions or even Iowa Senator Steve King say these things, but when the President of the United States says them, it resonates with hate groups and racists nationwide.
In this day and age, with the advent of the internet, and the speed at which information travels, baseless information reaches the masses and people with an unconscious, or even conscious, bias help continue to spread that disinformation. These blatant lies feed the chosen narrative of those who receive it and stoke fear and loathing towards people of color.
The best way to help prevent the spread of misinformation and undermine the power of hate-mongers is to lean into it and call it out. Doing so helps to minimize its impact, knock its teeth out, and eliminate its power. Being silent and allowing it to continue unabated gives it strength and emboldens those who continue to repeat the lies.
This is a continuation of an ongoing series discussing the impacts of immigration in the United States.The Truth About Immigration: Economics can be found at Latino Rebels, Reader Supported News, and Medium.
Arturo Tha Cuban is a front-line anti-racism activist, essayist and upcoming author who advocates for equality, justice and accountability. He tweets from @ExtremeArturo.