The Mythical Link Between Immigrants and High Crime Rates
Much of the debate surrounding the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants centers on the notion that they pose a threat to public safety. It’s a viewpoint that has persisted for years, long before Donald Trump made it a hallmark of his presidential campaign and began signing executive orders ramping up immigration enforcement.
A large body of research, however, finds no link between immigration and high crime rates, with some studies suggesting places with more immigrants actually enjoy slightly lower crime rates. Still, critics often contend that illegal immigration leads to more crime as research has generally failed to distinguish such individuals from the vast majority of legal immigrants who’ve been vetted by authorities.
The rate by which violent crime is lower in U.S. metro areas where unauthorized immigrants are most prevalent. Property crime is also lower in immigrant-heavy regions, by 10 percent.
To shed light on this contention, Governing conducted an analysis using recently released metro area population estimates from the Pew Research Center for “unauthorized immigrants” — people who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas. The analysis not only found no link with violent crime, but indicated concentrations of unauthorized immigrants were associated with marginally lower violent crime rates. A statistically significant negative correlation was also shown for property crimes. For every 1 percentage-point increase in the unauthorized immigrant share of a metro area’s population, average property crime rates dropped by 94 incidents per 100,000 residents.
Estimates of undocumented immigrants and average annual crime rates over a three-year period for 154 metro areas were analyzed in a regression model, controlling for a dozen socioeconomic variables. Pew’s unauthorized immigrant population estimates are the first set of regional-level figures the center has published. Nationally, they suggest this demographic accounts for a quarter of foreign-born residents, or about 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population.