Commentary: Illegal Immigration Does Not Lead to More Crime

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Good piece in the Des Moines Register last week, once again making the case that illegal immigration does not lead to more crime.  This is not a new debate, but it is interesting to see it carried out in Iowa rather than California for once.

Alex Piquero, a Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, makes the case.

He points out that “this is a commentary on what the data and research tell us about immigrants, immigration, and crime. Here’s the punch line: there is no ‘there there.’”

The data parsed over years of research – from different sources of data including self-reports, arrests and convictions, at different levels of analysis, from individuals, city and staff, and conducted in different time periods by different authors – “continues to show the exact same finding: Immigrants do not commit crime at higher rates than native-born Americans, and more immigration, in the aggregate, does not lead to more crime. Period.”

He noted that some will continue to bypass this data analysis and conclude that “well it’s illegal immigration” or “undocumented immigrants” “that we’re worried about and point to Mollie Tibbetts’ death as an example of a failed immigration or border system. In his essay, Trump insists for more correct reporting on illegal alien crime.”

What do the studies tell us?  The bottom line: “Illegal immigration does not increase (violent) crime.” Mr. Piquero points out:

  • As reported by NPR in May, four scientific studies, including one that I was part of, provide no evidence linking illegal immigration to crime.
  • This is the case from research completed at the national level over a three-decade time period by University of Wisconsin sociologist Michael Light.
  • It also includes research by the Cato Institute comparing conviction and arrest rates in Texas.
  • And it includes my own co-authored research published in Migration Letters showing that young undocumented immigrants self-reported committing less crime than either their legal immigrant or U.S.-born peers.

Professor Piquero concludes: “This is what the science tells us and more research may continue to tell us the same thing or may yield different conclusions. Yet, for now we need to follow what the data say. Yes, data are pesky.”

He adds: “The debate about immigration and crime tends to be one informed more by opinion than data when it should be the other way around.”

This undoubtedly will not resolve the issue, but it really should.

There are those who want to argue the perpetrator should never have been allowed in the US in the first place and, if we had enforced our immigration rules, he would not have.  Maybe.  And a key point is maybe.  The assumption is that he would not have been in the US, but we don’t actually know that.  Maybe under different rules he would have been in the US anyway, legally.

We can play this “what if” game all day.

Here is another one.  A man commits a relatively low level offense.  Instead of being sent to prison, he gets probation.  While on probation, he commits a serious felony (having never committed a violent felony before) and someone dies.

So is the fault in the system that allowed him out – rightly for having a low level offense – just because a low probability event occurred and he committed a murder?

Murders unfortunately happen all the time.  Undocumented immigrants don’t happen to commit them at a higher rate than the general population.

I think this is a case where the problem is not in our stars, it’s in ourselves.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Come to our event to hear Matt Gonzalez, a SF Public Defender, talk about a case similar to the Mollie Tibbetts case. Mr. Gonzalez represents Jose Garcia Zarate, accused of shooting Kate Steinle in San Francisco.


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Commentary: Illegal Immigration Does Not Lead to More Crime”

  1. Keith O

    The bottom line: “Illegal immigration does not increase (violent) crime.”

    Everytime an illegal immigrant commits a violent crime it creates more crime because that illegal immigrant shouldn’t be here in the first place.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s an assumption on your part. You’re assuming this is zero sum. Every person here illegally will not be here in an alternative policy world. I submit, you cannot make that assumption. There are a whole host of alternatives that could lead to the same people being here, amnesty, other people being here instead. The point of this data analysis is that there is nothing about this particular policy that leads to additional crime because the immigrants who emerge through this policy are not more likely to commit crimes than anyone else. You’re actually making an argument against any kind of population grow, because every incremental increase in people will lead to crimes that would not have been committed anyway.

    2. Howard P

      And, if we prevented all immigration, legal or not, we wouldn’t have had a Columbine… an Aurora… a Sandy Hook… a Murrah Building… a Las Vegas… a Tate/LaBianca… etc., etc., etc. Yeah, right…

      There is ethnicity/immigration status, and there is sociopaths, psychopaths, drug crazed folk, etc.  Those do not follow ethnic nor immigration status lines… get a freaking clue, folk…

  2. Jim Hoch

    “the immigrants who emerge through this policy are not more likely to commit crimes than anyone else.”

    This is an interesting question. What source are you using for this assertion?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      As explained elsewhere, not necessarily. The assumption is that if existing immigration laws were enforced, he would not have been here. But we actually don’t know that. Moreover, it assumes that we would have no alternative policy in place. There are a whole host of alternatives that could lead to the same people being here, amnesty, other people being here instead. The point of this data analysis is that there is nothing about this particular policy that leads to additional crime because the immigrants who emerge through this policy are not more likely to commit crimes than anyone else.

    2. Ann Block

      And the vast majority of those murdered in the U.S. in mass shootings would be alive today if all white men were banished from the U.S.  Period.  Just as ridiculous an idea.  Your point?

      1. Ken A

        It is not just “white” men that are killing others:

        “A 2013 global study on homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that males accounted for about 96 percent of all homicide perpetrators worldwide”

         

  3. Trent Patterson

    using your logic, the study data used in the original piece is irrelevant because it measures crimes committed by legal immigrants; your argument above proves that such data have no bearing on what people here illegally might/would do.

  4. Ken A

    Anyone that believes  that “illegal immigration does not lead to more crime” must also believe that the millions here “illegally” somehow find a way to work “legally” and pay all the taxes that they are “legally” required to pay (and never steal the identity of people legally here from their country making their life living hell as the IRS tries to make them pay the taxes the “illegal” immigrant didn’t pay)…

  5. Ken A

    I’m wondering if David can explain how the millions of people in the US “illegally” avoid the “crime” of “tax evasion”.

    P.S. I’m also wondering why many of the people get bent out of shape when a single real estate developer avoids paying some taxes don’t seem to care if millions of people working for cash (in the US legally “and” illegally) don’t pay a penny of federal or state income taxes (or pay a penny in to SS and Medicare)…

  6. Ann Block

    Maybe, Ken A, the explanation is that, according to the Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants pay $6-7 billion a year in social security taxes (in addition to income taxes per the IRS) that they will never receive benefits from, thus shoring up our social security system so that YOU can still receive benefits from it when you retire.  “Beliefs” aren’t important or significant unless they are based on facts.  Hard facts, not “alternative facts.”

    1. Ken A

      I am aware that some undocumented immigrants working with fake SS#s pay a lot in to the Social Security system (and they also pay “sales” tax), but since you need a “valid” SS# to file a tax return most do not file (in violation of the law) or pay any state and federal “income” tax (in violation of the law) .  I’m not going to name any names here, but I know a LOT of people (here in Davis) that pay undocumented immigrants in cash (It is not just politicians that hire them):

      https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/calif-candidate-whitman-responds-to-illegal-immigrant-hiring-revelation

      I want to make it easier for hard working people (of all races) to come to America to work, and I also want to make it easier and “legal” for them to pay ALL the taxes they have to pay.  It is sad that many “legal” immigrants are out of work because they want to follow the law and they lose out on jobs to people that will work “illegally” for often more per hour take home but end up saving an employer money that does not need to pay taxes (or other benefits)…

    2. Jerry Waszczuk

      According to United States Department Of Justice, some of the potential penalties include:— Using false documents to be employed: A maximum penalty of 10 years without parole in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000. — Making a false statement on an I-9: A maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. — Misusing a Social Security number: A maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. — Making a false claim of resident alien status: A maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. — Using false documents with intent to defraud the United States: A maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. — Possession of false United States documents: A maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $250,000. — Aggravated identity theft: A mandatory penalty of 2 years in federal prison to run consecutively to any other sentence, and a fine up to $250,000. 

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