Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Immigrants are not a violent crime problem - An open letter

This Open Letter on Immigrants and Crime was passed on to me by my friend Phil Kasinitz, a sociologist who studies (among other things) immigration, ethnicity, and politics--New York ethnic politics being one of his specialties. Phil is one of more than 130 social scientists, law professors, and others who have signed this statement and sent it to the President, all members of Congress, and all state Governors as a contribution to debates over immigration policy.

These signatories include a lot of serious scholars who know what they're talking about, so we can feel confident that the factual claims made here have a solid basis. And some people may find these points surprising, so they're worth spreading around. Here's the gist:
Dear Mr. President, Members of Congress, and Governors:

Immigration has enriched the economy and culture of the United States since the founding of the nation. Yet immigrants long have been scapegoats for many social problems that afflict the nation. As a result, myths and stereotypes about immigrants, rather than established facts, far too often serve as the basis for public perceptions that drive misguided immigration policies.

One of the most pervasive misperceptions about immigrants is that they are more likely to commit predatory crimes than are the native-born. Popular movies, television series, and a sensationalizing news media propagate the enduring image of immigrant communities permeated by crime and violence. But this widespread belief is simply wrong.

Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that, in fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be behind bars than are the native-born. This is true for the nation as a whole, as well as for cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami, and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border such as San Diego and El Paso. [....]
To spell this out further:
[A]mong men age 18-39 (who comprise the vast majority of the prison population), the incarceration rate of the native-born is much higher than the incarceration rate of the foreign-born.

Immigrants in every ethnic group in the United States have lower rates of crime and imprisonment than do the native born. This is true for all immigrant groups ­- including the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who comprise most of the undocumented immigrants in the country. Even though immigrants from these countries are far more likely than natives to have less than a high-school education and to live in poverty, they are far less likely to be behind bars or to commit crimes. Moreover, teenage immigrants are much less likely than native-born adolescents to engage in risk behaviors such as delinquency, violence, and substance abuse that often lead to imprisonment.

The problem of violent crime in the United States is not caused by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. [....]

There are real dangers inherent in the myth that immigrants are more prone to criminality than are the native-born. [....] We, as sociologists, criminologists, legal scholars and other social scientists, both academics and practitioners in the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, police officers, and criminal attorneys, strongly urge state and national policymakers who are drafting laws that affect immigrants to base these laws on demonstrated facts rather than on false assumptions.
You can read the whole statement, as well as the list of signatories, HERE.

(There is an overview of the evidence in a report written for the Immigration Policy Center by Rubén G. Rumbaut & Walter A. Ewing, "The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates Among Native and Foreign-Born Men". [Press Release] [Summary] [Additional Resources])

--Jeff Weintraub