Despite the oft-repeated claims that immigrants commit more crime than the native-born, a developing body of criminological research indicates that the opposite is true: immigrants tend to commit less crime than the native-born. A couple of articles that I recently came across bolster this conclusion.
In Incorporating Ethnic-Specific Measures of Immigration in the Study of Lethal Violence, Jacob I. Stowell and Ramiro Martinez, Jr. examine homicide data in Miami, a city with large Latina/o populations. 13 Homicide Studies 315 (2009). They conclude that “at least in the city of Miami, Latino immigrant groups have a decidedly stronger negative association with homicide levels than non-Latinos.” Id. at 322. What’s most interesting about this article is that Stowell and Martinez parceled out Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Honduran migrants in Miami, and concluded that “the immigration effect on homicide was consistent across Latino groups.” Id.
More recently, Stowell and Martinez teamed up with Jeffrey M. Cancino to study Latina/o involvement in homicide nationwide, in border states, and in states that have recently experienced large growths in their Latina/o populations. Latino Crime and Latinos in the Criminal Justice System: Trends, Policy Implications, and Future Research Initiatives, 4 Race and Social Problems 31 (2012).
Turning first to the border, the authors conclude that border counties—parts of the country frequently associated with Latina/o immigrant criminality—have homicide rates that “mirror those of the region,” the non-border counties of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Id. at 35. Taking into account structural factors (poverty and the presence of adults) and demographics, they conclude that “counties adjacent to the border have significantly lower levels of lethal violence than non-border counties.” Id. at 36. This is true even when border counties have high Latina/o immigrant populations. Interestingly, this pattern holds true even for non-Latinos. That is, “immigrant concentration is associated with lower levels of non-Latino white and black homicide victimization.” Id.
The presence of Latina/o immigrants in the “hyper-Latino growth” states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee also didn’t have an adverse impact on homicide rates. Id. at 37. Indeed, even in these states that are still adjusting to a new population, “immigrant concentration predicts lower levels of homicide.” Id. And, as in the border communities, “the combined effect of the size of the Latino population and the percent foreign-born is associated with fewer total, non-Hispanic black, and Latino homicides.” Id.
The bottom line is that, according to these studies, the presence of Latina/o immigrants definitely doesn’t increase violent crime and they seem to actually reduce it. This conclusion is consistent with other studies, several of which are included in an excellent book that Martinez edited, Immigration and Crime: Race, Ethnicity, and Violence (New Perspectives in Crime, Deviance, and Law).
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