Immigrants less Likely to Commit Crimes than Native-Born Americans

Sunday, July 12, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Despite overhyped reports to the contrary in right-wing media, immigrants to the United States are less likely to commit crimes than those born in this country, according to a new study.


The report (pdf) from the American Immigration Council showed that among men aged 18 to 39, the group most likely to commit crimes, immigrants are less than half as likely to be incarcerated as those born in this country. The incarceration rate as of 2010 was 3.3% for the native-born and 1.6% for immigrants. That ratio has held steady over the preceding three decades as well.


The numbers make sense if one looks at why immigrants come to the United States in the first place. “First-generation economic immigrants are self-selected risk takers who leave their homes, families, and languages to move to a new country to improve their and their children’s lives. They have good reasons to work hard, defer gratifications, and stay out of trouble,” law professor and public-policy expert Michael Tonry has said, according to the report.


Among young, less-educated men, the differences are even more pronounced. The study showed that 10.7% of native-born men without high school diplomas are incarcerated. The numbers for similar men from Mexico are 2.8% and from El Salvador and Guatemala 1.7%.


The report says that these differences aren’t a result of immigrants being sent back to their home countries when found to be breaking the law. Instead, according to a study by economists Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, the “evidence suggests that deportation and deterrence of immigrants’ crime commission from the threat of deportation are not driving the results. Rather, immigrants appear to be self-selected to have low criminal propensities and this has increased

over time.”


This shows up early on as younger immigrants tend to get into less trouble as well. A 2010 study based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health showed “immigrant youth who enrolled in U.S. middle and high schools in the mid-1990s and who are young adults today had among the lowest delinquency rates of all youth.”


“Immigration policy is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence,” concludes the report. “As a result, immigrants have the stigma of ‘criminality’ ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration-enforcement mechanisms. Put differently, immigrants are being defined more and more as threats.”


“Whole new classes of ‘felonies’ have been created which apply only to immigrants [and] deportation has become a punishment for even minor offenses,” the report continues. “In short, immigrants themselves are being criminalized.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States (by Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut, American Immigration Council) (pdf)

El Paso Earns Safest Large U.S. City Ranking Third Year in a Row (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Leave a comment