In a paper recently posted to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Scott Baker argues that individuals who received amnesty pursuant to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 committed less crime after amnesty than before. Scott Baker, Effects of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act on Crime: Preliminary Version, SSRN (Apr. 2011).
As many as 320,000 fewer crimes might have been committed thanks to IRCA, Baker explains, a result possibly attributable to the fact that people with lawful status are able to lawfully work, therefore economic incentives to engage in criminal activity are reduced.
Baker, a graduate student in economics at Stanford, summarizes his research as follows: “Having one percent of a county composed of IRCA applicants who are legalized lowers crime approximately 1%-4%. This decline is higher for property crime than for violent crime, suggesting more effect on crimes with an economic motive. It is robust to the inclusion of a number of controls such as economic indicators, police strength, and demographic and racial data as well as differing measures of crime, arrests and crime reports. … This fall in crime is economically significant, representing 80,000-320,000 fewer crimes committed each year due to legalization. If similar results hold true for a proposed amnesty for current illegals, the effects would be much larger owing to the larger proportion of illegals currently residing in the United States. With estimates of this population of close to 12,000,000, almost 4% of the population, crime could be predicted to fall by even larger amounts due to such an amnesty program.” Baker at 30.