The new administration has made no secret of its stance on immigration. As far back as 2015, Donald Trump has this to say about new arrivals from Mexico: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.” Nearly a month into his presidency, he hasn’t strayed from those beliefs, implementing a travel plan against predominantly Muslim countries and plowing ahead with plans to construct a (very expensive) wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
But despite these claims now emanating from the White House, immigration doesn’t lead to more crime. In fact, immigration may actually reduce some kinds of crime, according to new research which looked at 40 years of data and concluded that immigrants are not, in fact, latent criminals.
“Although classical criminological and neoclassical economic theories would predict immigration to increase crime, most empirical research shows quite the opposite,” Robert Adelman, the main author, writes in the report. Adelman, an associate professor in the University of Buffalo’s Department of Sociology, examined violent crimes and property crimes in metropolitan areas over the last four decades. What he found was that, according to arrest and offense data, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S. “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,” Adelman told the University of Buffalo news center.
The study, published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, combined census data and FBI crime reports from 1970 to 2010 from 200 metropolitan areas. Overall, crime was either stable or declined in areas with lots of immigrants.
For context, Adelman gives an overview of the history of immigration in the U.S. From 1880 to 1930 5 million immigrants entered the country in each decade, growing to over 12% of the country’s total population. But then, a tangled web of newly restrictive immigration laws, the Great Depression, and World War II caused immigration to drop to 1.3 million per decade; by 1960, the overall proportion of immigrants dropped to 5%. Today, that figure stands at 13%, and immigrants are moving to places not previously known to have large immigrant communities, like Georgia and Nevada, Adelman writes.
Though Adelman’s conclusion on immigration is clear, he noted in the report that previous research on crime in immigrant neighborhoods is contradictory. Adelman cited research claiming that immigrants displace natives, increasing poverty among them and causing the natives to turn to crime. One 1964 study done by urban sociologists found that high rates of crime in immigrant communities “was produced by poverty, lack of opportunities, and social disorganization manifested in so-called broken families, neighborhood instability, and lack of common community standards or morals.” That rather short-sighted and moralizing take, Adelman noted, was later supplanted by research that found immigrant neighborhoods to be “highly organized and relatively safe places.”
The takeaway from the report reads as especially ironic in today’s political climate. “Since immigrants are less likely to be criminal offenders than the native-born, it is possible that immigration, as an aggregate-level phenomenon, can affect the overall rate of crime in different places and at different times,” Adelman writes. Directly flying in the face of Trump’s theories, Adelman’s work suggests that cities could try to attract more immigrants as a way to reduce crime.