What Do We Do With Illegal Immigrants?

Immigrant neighborhoods are safer than native-born areas.

We hear ubiquitously that “illegal immigrants” bring crime to the U. S.  But if you want to feel safer from crime, move to a neighborhood of undocumented immigrants.  That’s not what you’ll hear from GOP hardliners on immigration, but it’s true.

Alex Nowrasteh,  Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute, has conducted exhaustive research on immigrants and crime, issuing in July his findings in a report titled “Immigration and Crime—What the Research Says.”  Many of his findings are well worth citing.

His thesis is that “immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on the crime rates.”  He cites the Census and American Community Survey (ACS), which conclude that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than the native-born population.  ACS also concludes that “increased immigration does not increase crime and sometimes even causes crime rates to fall.

Nowrasteh cites the work of researchers Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, who examined the incarceration rates for men aged 18-40 in the l980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses, finding that “in each year immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives, with the gap widening each decade.”

Nowrasteh reports that professors Walter Ewing (American Immigration Council), Daniel Martinez (George Washington University), and Rubin Rumbaut (University of California, Irvine) found similar results:  “Roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.”  In data collected from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial Census, “the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.” Professors Graham Ousey (College of William and Mary) and Charis Kubrin (George Washington University) examined 159 cities on three dates between l980 and 2000, finding that “violent crime is not a deleterious consequence of increased immigration.

Research also uncovered a powerful irony. Researcher Leslie William Reid et al. studied a sample of 150 metropolitan statistical areas, finding that “increased immigration may actually be beneficial in terms of lessening some types of crimes.” Professor Tim Wadsworth of the University of Colorado found that “cities with greater growth in immigrant or new immigrant populations between l990 and 2000 tended to have steeper decreases in homicide and robbery rates.

Nowrasteh further reports: social researchers Garth Davies and Jeffrey Fagan “looked at crime and immigration patterns at the neighborhood level in New York City.  They find that crime rates are not higher in areas with more immigrants. Professor Robert Sampson (Harvard University) looked at Chicago and found that Hispanic immigrants were far less likely to commit a violent criminal act than either black or white native Chicagoans.

Nowrasteh also reports that numerous studies have confirmed the irony that “immigrants are less crime prone and have positive spillover effects like aiding in community redevelopment, rebuilding of local civil society in formerly decaying urban cores, and contributing to greater economic prosperity through pushing natives up the skills spectrum through complementary task specialization.

He adds “There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality.  One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law.

Ronald Reagan, in whose administration I worked, once urged, “Do not be afraid to see what you see.”  There is one question that critics of illegal immigrants never answer:  “What would you do with the 11.2 million illegal immigrants now living in this country?” Most respond: “Secure the border,” but that response ducks the question. 

I suspect that critics never answer this question for two reasons:  one, they have no idea what to do. Two, if they are not afraid to see what they see, they will refute or contradict their own opposition.  The American Action Forum, a conservative research organization, reports that deporting all 11.2 million would cost taxpayers anywhere from $400 billion to $600 billion. That will never happen.

The Pew Research Center reports that 72 percent of Americans now believe that these 11.2 million immigrants should be given “legal status” under certain conditions, such as: they have no criminal record, are fined, are put on tax rolls, learn English, and are put at the end of the line for citizenship.

GOP candidates should see what is before their eyes.


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