Tag Archives: Immigration

Undocumented immigrants half as likely to commit crimes as US citizens

The tripling of the undocumented population in recent decades is one of the most consequential and controversial social trends in the US, with debates about the criminality of undocumented immigrants at the fore of this controversy.

But things are often misrepresented, a new study finds, and the reality is that immigrants don’t lead to a rise in crime — quite the opposite.

Image credit: Flickr / Payton Chung.

Researchers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that undocumented immigrants in Texas were half as likely to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses and less than a quarter as likely to be arrested for property crimes, compared to US-born citizens. The study covered the period between 2012 and 2018.

Previous studies looking into the link between immigration and crime could only address the issue in an approximate fashion, as most US crime databases don’t collect information on immigration status. Still, studies showed that areas with more immigrants tend to have less crime. Researchers haven’t previously been able to link a specific immigration status to the rates for specific crimes, which makes this study all the more significant.

Professor Michael Light accessed the database of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which works with the Department of Homeland Security to check the immigration status of those arrested finding that, surprisingly, undocumented immigrants had by far the lowest crime rate.

Texas has the second-largest immigrant population in the US, with roughly 4.8 million foreign-born individuals, of which an estimated 1.6 million are undocumented. The state processes large numbers of immigrants through their criminal justice system. In 2012, it had the third-highest number of reported noncitizens in their prisons.

Light and his team calculated the crime rates of U.S.-born citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants and reviewed the relative contribution of undocumented immigrants to felonies. The proportion of arrests involving them didn’t increase with time and even decreased for some offenses such as drug crimes. Meanwhile, the crime rate of US-born citizens has been steadily on the rise since 2016.

The researchers acknowledged it can be difficult to estimate the exact population of undocumented migrants. So, to consider potential errors, they calculated that how inaccurate their population estimated would have to be to alter their findings. They found the population would have to be less than half as large.

While the study doesn’t explain why undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than documented ones or native-born Americans, the researchers found some factors that seem to contribute to this. Those who emigrate to the US from other countries are generally more motivated and intrinsically less likely to commit a crime, they argued. American culture may also play a role. Assimilation theory refers to the tendency for immigrants to adopt the cultural and social values of their host country, particularly as their amount of exposure to the country’s social and cultural context increases. The findings of the study could be linked to this idea, the researchers believe.

The Trump administration has made immigration a key issue over the past four years, with Trump especially pushing the idea that immigrants generate crime. Arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased by 30% in 2017 after Trump gave the agency more authority to detain undocumented immigrants. Then, in 2019, the number of people arrested at the border between the US and Mexico reached its highest level in 12 years.

“Debates about undocumented immigration will no doubt continue, but they should do so informed by the available evidence. The results presented here significantly undermine the claims that undocumented immigrants pose a unique criminal risk. In fact, our results suggest that undocumented immigrants pose substantially less criminal risk than native US citizens,” the researchers wrote.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Immigrants in the classroom bring better results for all schoolchildren

A new study analyzed a claim that seems to be quite popular with the nationalists: the idea that immigrant students drain resources from local students, reducing their performance.

Not only was this found to not be true, but the opposite actually stands: immigrants in the classroom seem to improve performance all across the board.

Image credits: US Embassy.

The case against immigration follows one general belief: that immigrants take away resources from the local population, reducing performance and wellbeing. Researchers are BYU and the University of Albany wanted to put that idea to the test in the classroom and see if it stands.

“The current political environment shows a big push against immigration that in many ways is driven by an argument that immigrants will pull resources from the host country,” said Mikaela Dufur, a sociology professor at BYU. “The thought is if you want to protect the host country you need to really limit immigration to protect those resources.”

They analyzed data from 260,000 students from more than 10,000 academic institutions over 41 high-income countries, focusing on three groups: native-born students (parents and students born in that country), second-generation students (students born in that country but parents born in another) and first-generation students (students born outside of the current country).

The groups were also more homogeneous the more immigrants there were, which is a positive indicator for overall classroom performance. In countries with lower immigration rate (<15%), immigrants perform about 15 to 20 points below native-born students. Where immigration lies between 15% and 25%, native-born students and immigrants are within 10 points of each other, and where 25% or more are foreign-born, all three groups perform within five points of each other.

“We were pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just a neutral effect for the native kids but that they actually did better with more immigrant kids in their class,” Dufur said.

The school is probably one of the best environments to put the anti-immigration idea to the test because children are so vulnerable to resource misallocation.

“We were really interested in looking at education because we thought kids would be the most vulnerable citizens of the host country,” Dufur said. “If you were going to drain resources from kids, you should really see an effect of that and you might want to have stricter immigration policies to protect them.”

“The findings indicate that immigrant students perform similarly to native-born students when considering other contextual factors, with socioeconomic status moderating the effect of immigrant status. Furthermore, all students, immigrant and nonimmigrant students alike, benefit academically from more immigration,” the team concludes.

The fact that this was not the case, and that immigration actually improved academic performance should be an important indicator for policymakers, Dufur says. The positive aspects of having a rich migratory population should be considered when drafting immigration policies and restrictions, they conclude.

The study “The Influence of Foreign-born Population on Immigrant and Native-born Students’ Academic Achievement” has been published in Socius.

Statue of Liberty.

Immigrants to the US are happier later in life than natives — despite generally being worse off financially

Immigrants to the US tend, on average, to report higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction later in life than native-born Americans, new research reveals.

Statue of Liberty.

Image credits Rick Zern.

A research group from the Florida State University (FSU) reports that those who immigrated into the American Dream are happier and more satisfied later in life, on average, than those born in the land of the free. However, this effect was not consistent across different ethnic groups — black immigrants, in particular, showed no difference in happiness and life satisfaction compared to their native counterparts.

Happier, but not better off

“We discovered that people who are foreign-born and living in the United States do have higher levels of life satisfaction,” says FSU Assistant Professor of Sociology Dawn Carr.

“We examined life satisfaction because it is a useful global measure for understanding how people are doing on the whole with regard to how they feel about their life. It’s a good way of capturing their overall well-being.”

For the study, the team used data from 7,348 participants aged 60 and older, who had lived an average of roughly 30 years in the United States. The data was taken from the 2012/2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

All in all, Hispanic immigrants had the highest overall levels of life satisfaction compared to any other racial group, the team reports. This finding meshed well with previous research of its kind, which found something researchers call the “Hispanic Paradox.” It would be an awesome superhero name, but it’s actually the observation that older Hispanic immigrants in the United States tend to have better health outcomes than non-Hispanic whites — despite more limited socioeconomic resources.

The increased happiness and life satisfaction didn’t apply only to Hispanic immigrants — it was roughly consistent across ethnic groups. Foreign-born blacks were the only group that did not report the same increases in overall life satisfaction as compared to other races.

“The older adult immigrants in our sample adjusted to life in the United States, and they’re thriving more than their native-born counterparts. They seem to have developed a life that provides a good old age,” says Carr.

“It was very discouraging to see this outcome for the black sample. Blacks in general have lower levels of life satisfaction than everybody else and foreign-born blacks do not experience any better outcomes.”

As to why Hispanic immigrants do so well, the team believes it comes down to cultural factors that “are quite beneficial in terms of maintaining well-being.” Previous studies into the paradox have found support for this idea that culture plays a role in their greater life satisfaction, but no specific mechanisms that could explain it were pinpointed. Carr says one possibility is that spirituality or the robust sense of community these people report may play a part.

The team also looked at how education levels correlated to people’s overall life satisfaction. For whites, it’s a pretty linear relationship — more education, higher life satisfaction. But for both native and foreign-born blacks, more education actually decreased life satisfaction. Higher levels of education were also associated with lower life satisfaction for native-born Hispanics.

“That was a puzzling discovery,” Carr said. “This means that education does not seem to enhance the lives of minorities like we might expect.”

“We do not know the reasons for these trends, but we might guess that factors like discrimination are involved, detracting from their overall happiness. For instance, someone who has a college degree, who is in a job with similarly educated individuals who are not minority, might be more overtly aware of the discrimination they’re experiencing.”

Further research is needed to determine exactly what causes these differences in happiness levels later in life among different groups of people, Carr admits. Until then, maybe native-born Americans should learn how to view their country through the eyes of those who immigrated from abroad. If nothing else, maybe it will make them enjoy life just that little bit more. Who can say that’s not a goal worth pursuing, eh?

The paper “Expanding the Happiness Paradox: Ethnoracial Disparities in Life Satisfaction Among Older Immigrants in the United States” has been published in the Journal of Aging and Health.

Immigration doesn’t cause crime — it may actually reduce it, study shows

A new study led by researchers from the University of Buffalo found no evidence supporting the idea that immigration promotes crime. In fact, the exact opposite might be true, as certain types of crimes seem to go down in cities with high immigration.

Image credits Rebecca / Pixabay.

This might not come as a big surprise if you don’t feel the need to be made great again, but there isn’t much backing the case that immigration increases crime. There will always be political capital to be gained from such populist rhetoric, however — if you don’t mind creating a culture of hate and dividing a nation. It’s a much older discussion which has resurfaced with a vengeance during the last election and in its wake.

But it doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny, as a new paper led by UB associate professor of sociology Robert Adelman shows. In fact, immigration might actually lower the incidence of certain criminal behavior.

“Our research shows strong and stable evidence that, on average, across U.S. metropolitan areas crime and immigration are not linked,” he said.

“The results show that immigration does not increase assaults and, in fact, robberies, burglaries, larceny, and murder are lower in places where immigration levels are higher. The results are very clear.”

Previous studies on arrest and offense records have shown that overall, foreigners are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, Adelman said. So instead of focusing on individual cases, he and his team wanted to get a wider picture. They studied large-scale immigration patterns to see if they correlate to increases in a community’s level of crime through the often-touted mechanisms such as ‘they’re taking all our jobs.’

Tear down this wall (of misinformation)

Image credits Silvia & Frank / Pixabay.

The team drew on a sample of 200 metropolitan areas (as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau). This included all metropolitan areas with a population exceeding one million, and several smaller ones (75,000 to 1 million) chosen randomly. The team corrected for the specific economic condition in each area, then compared their respective census data and uniform crime report data from the FBI between 1970 to 2010. Their results suggest that as the relative size of foreign-born population (FBP) increases, the rate of violent crime, murder, and robbery all decrease.

The paper states that for samples of 100,000 people, every 1% increase in FBP “decreases the overall violent crime rate by 4.9 crimes.” A one percent FBP increase translated to a decrease in 0.11 murders (which is small, but significant considering the relatively low number of murders per 100,000 people), and a 4.3 decrease in robbery. The team also notes that the percentage of foreign-born population isn’t strongly linked to aggravated assault, but that “it is important to note that the direction of the effect is negative.”

“This is a study across time and across place and the evidence is clear,” said Adelman. “We are not claiming that immigrants are never involved in crime. What we are explaining is that communities experiencing demographic change driven by immigration patterns do not experience significant increases in any of the kinds of crime we examined.”

“And in many cases, crime was either stable or actually declined in communities that incorporated many immigrants.”


Adelman adds that the relationship between crime and immigration is complex and more research is needed to understand it. But his research adds to a body of literature concluding that immigrants, as a whole, contribute to America’s social and economic life.

“Facts are critical in the current political environment. The empirical evidence in this study and other related research shows little support for the notion that more immigrants lead to more crime.”

“It’s important to base our public policies on facts and evidence rather than ideologies and baseless claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without any facts to back them up,” he concluded.

The full paper “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades” has been published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice.