Saturday, May 22, 2010

More Immigrants, Less Crime?

The xenophobic Right, which loves to verbally bash immigrants, has repeatedly pushed the canard that immigrants cause crime. They claim that there is a crime wave hitting American due to immigrants and repeat claims that crime in border states is particularly bad. What they don't do is show crime statistics. These are the kind of people, so ignorant of evidence, that they think an anecdotal story suffices.

Let us go to ground zero is the immigration debate: Arizona. It is there that Republicans pushed through an infamous anti-immigration bill that has many people shocked and concerned. So what has happened in the Arizona border towns? Not much actually, as the Arizona Republic found when it talked the police chiefs in those towns.

Nogales, Arizona shares the border with Nogales, Mexico but the Arizona town says it doesn't know what the anti-immigration crowd is talking about. Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez says: "You can look at the crime stats. I think Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."

The Republic says that they looked at the FBI Uniform Crime Report and statistics provided by local police agencies which "show that the crime rates in Nogales,Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade..." They also found: "Statewide rates of violent crime also are down."

Politicians, mainly, if not exclusively Republican, have made speeches about crime along the Arizona border. But Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, from Pima County, says: "This is a media-created event. I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure." In Cochise County the "crime rate has been 'flat for at least 10 years, the sheriff added."

The Republic reports: "While the nation's illegal-immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to federal records, the violent-crime rate declined 35 percent." If illegal immigrantion causes crime then shouldn't crime rates rise with more immigration,not fall? In Arizona the violent-crime rate "dropped from 512 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 447 incidents in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available."

This decrease in crime in "crime-ridden" Arizona—if you believe the hype about immigrants—continues to show up in the most recent statistics as well. The Wall Street Journal reports, "Arizona's major cities all registered declines" in crime and:
In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, "Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we're significantly down." Mr. Crump said Phoenix's most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.
Sure there is crime related to drug smuggling and it is growing in many ways. But that is not illegal immigrants by any means. Your typical undocumented worker can't afford cocaine to smuggle, they are lucky to afford the cost of getting themselves across the border. The violence we see is drug war related and as long as drug profits are high, which is a result of the war on drugs, then smuggling will be associated with violence. And the more violent our drug warriors become the more violent the smugglers will be. But this is not related to immigration: legal or illegal.

Sociologist Robert Sampson looked at crime trends in the US and compared them to immigration patterns. More immigrants didn't lead to more crime, which is what should have happened had there been a direc link between the two. If you look at the chart here you will see the time line shows American crime trands from 1990 to 2004 (this is from a 2006 article). You see crime rates dropping as immigration rates increased. Around 1998 crime rates stagnated for the most part, but immigration fell. So as immigration rates were increased crime fell, and when immigration fell crime rates stopped falling.

Sampson wrote:
Yet our study found that immigrants appear in general to be less violent than people born in America, particularly when they live in neighborhoods with high numbers of other immigrants. We are thus witnessing a different pattern from early 20th-century America, when growth in immigration from Europe was linked with increasing crime and formed a building block for what became known as "social disorganization" theory.

In today's world, then, it is no longer tenable to assume that immigration automatically leads to chaos and crime. New York is a magnet for immigration, yet it has for a decade ranked as one of America's safest cities. Border cities like El Paso and San Diego have made similar gains against crime. Perhaps the lesson is that if we want to continue to crack down on crime, closing the nation's doors is not the answer.
Professor Tim Wadsworth, from the University of Colorado read what Sampson wrote and decided to test it. The University press release reports what Wadsworth found:
Drawing from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports and U.S. Census data, Wadsworth analyzed 459 cities with populations of at least 50,000. Wadsworth measured immigrant populations in two ways: those who are foreign-born and those who immigrated within the previous five years.

Wadsworth focused on medium and large cities because about 80 percent of violent crime takes place there. Wadsworth said distinguishing legal and illegal immigration is difficult, as the U.S. Census does not track those numbers, but he notes that immigrant citizens and non-citizens often live together in the same communities.

He tracked crime statistics for homicide and robbery because they tend to be reported more consistently than other crimes. Robberies are usually committed by strangers -- which increases the reporting rate -- and "homicides are difficult to hide," he said.
Wadsworth looked to see if crime rose as immigration rose and fell as immigration declined. Instead he found the opposite: "cities that experienced the largest growth in the population of foreign-born and newly arrived immigrant populations experienced the largest decreases in violent crime between 1990 and 2000." Wadsworth's conclusions corresponded with those of Sampson, and instead of showing a rise in crime because of immigration, the records showed that crime dropped.

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