The 2016 election and the Trump presidency have raised many topics of social debate among Americans, none more heated and controversial than immigration.
President Trump asserts that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crime, and that by allowing them to remain in the US, we are endangering American citizens. This has garnered the support of many conservative Americans for a tougher stand against undocumented immigrants, but the facts do not support the claim that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crime than American-born citizens or other lawful immigrants.
Unfortunately, the immigration debate is so emotionally charged that both sides are likely to reach conclusions based more on personal beliefs and emotion-based arguments than facts.
Further, it is difficult to find facts that fully confirm or refute the assertion that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.
But some research offers strong indications that undocumented immigrants have a marginal impact on the nation’s crime rate. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2013 and 2016 noncitizens comprised just 4 percent of the state inmate population. That would indicate a lower crime rate among noncitizens than natural born citizens.
Still, it is best to examine both arguments for and against this crime rate issue.
The Arizona Study
John R. Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center reviewed 32 ½ years of prisoner data from Arizona prisons, and concluded that illegal immigrants had the highest incarceration rate when compared to legal immigrants and natural born citizens. Lott found that while deportable immigrants make up 2% of the Arizona population, they make up about 8% of the prison population. He concluded from this study that illegal immigrants were 2.7 times more likely to commit crime.
This study has been heavily reviewed. Many criminal justice experts believe it has a fatal flaw.
The category Mr. Lott based his findings on was something called “Non-US citizen, deportable.” That makes it appear that Lott considered only illegal immigrants when his numbers, in fact, included not only undocumented immigrants, but also immigrants who were lawfully in the US until they became deportable by committing a serious criminal offense.
This led to an inevitable biased conclusion.
The Difficulty of Linking Undocumented Immigrants to Crime
Most crime rate research is conducted using national criminal databases. However, no currently available databases include the immigration status of offenders. This means that reliable data confirming or refuting the assertion that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crime is hard to come by.
Due to these limitations, most studies evaluating the potential link between immigration and crime rates have used a correlation-based approach. These studies compare immigration rates with crime rates in order to determine if crime rates increase with an influx of immigrants.
Studies of this nature have repeatedly found that increased immigration rates actually correlate with decreased crime rates. However, these studies are correlation-based, which means that increased immigration rates may not be causative in decreasing crime rates.
A multitude of studies have found this relationship, though, strengthening the notion that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crime. Common sense would also suggest that undocumented immigrants would be more likely to avoid crime in order to avoid police attention, which puts them at risk of deportation.
What to Do If You Find Yourself Charged with an Immigration Crime
Do immigrants cause more crime? Do they reduce crime?
The debate is likely to go on, but one thing remains clear: new immigration policies and enforcement have made immigration to the US increasingly difficult while placing current immigrants – legal or not – in a perilous position.
If you or a loved one are currently facing an immigration charge, it is imperative to take action as soon as possible to protect your interests and those of your family. A knowledgeable immigration attorney can help protect your rights, maximizing your chance of a favorable outcome.