Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born

Illegal Immigration Crime

Crime News Service: At a time when the century-long American debate on whether immigrants commit more crimes than native-born residents is raging again, a new report concludes exactly the opposite.

The debate, which has always been present when immigration increases, is being renewed by the killing of a young woman in San Francisco by a Mexican national who entered the country illegally several times.

But “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Council, reports that immigrants commit fewer crimes than non-immigrants.

Further, it shows that policies implemented in the last 20 years — mainly to prosecute illegal immigration — are increasing incarceration rates for immigrants.

“Numerous studies repeatedly and consistently show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native born,” said Ruben Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at UC Irvine and one of the co-authors of the study, during a telephone conference. “This is true of the largest undocumented immigrant population centers (such as) Los Angeles and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Rates of violent crime have declined sharply and the violent crime rate has reached historic lows.”

The study relies on data from the U.S. Census, the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other reports, and finds that, even though the number of immigrants in the country has increased for the past three decades, violent crimes have gone down.

“It’s a tribute to the strength of a strongly rooted stereotype,” Rumbaut said. “Stereotype in emotions and impervious to fact.”

The share of the foreign-born population in the United States went up from almost 8 percent in 1990 to more than 13 percent in 2013. At the same time, the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million in 1990 to 12.2 million in 2007.

But violent crime rates went down dramatically in about the same time period from about 730 incidents per 100,000 residents in 1990 to 368 in 2013.

Property crimes such as car theft and burglary also show the same downward trend, according to the study.

The report also shows the incarceration rate is consistently twice as high for those who were born in the United States.

An analysis of 2010 Census figures by the report’s authors found that roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males between 18 and 39 years old are incarcerated, compared with 3.3 percent of native-born males in the same age group. These numbers have held consistently since 1980, the report found.

“In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants,” the report said.

Yet in spite of these numbers, the report argues that Congress has increasingly drafted legislation that further criminalizes immigrants, most recently in 2008 with “Secure Communities,” a program that enabled the comparison of an arrestee’s fingerprints with immigration databases to catch people who were in the country illegally.

Through Secure Communities, immigration officials could request the suspect be held, resulting in the deportation of more than 306,000 people in 2013. Data from the Department of Homeland Security show that the majority of people deported in 2013 were for immigration-related charges — which means they were likely charged with entering the United States illegally more than once — and 14 percent had “unknown” charges.

But more than 77 percent of immigrants caught under Secure Communities had no previous criminal record, prompting complaints from immigrant advocacy groups and ending with new legislation in California that prevents local law enforcement agencies from complying with the immigration holds.

“These enforcement mechanisms driven by misconceptions have created a system different for citizens than for non-citizens,” said Daniel Martinez, assistant sociology professor at The George Washington University and co-author of the report.

The killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco was tragic, said Beth Werlin, policy director at the American Immigration Council, but “we can’t let the outrageous action of one person determine policy. What we want to do is have a policy discussion focused on what the data shows.”

The authors have been working on the report for about a year and its release has nothing to do with Steinle’s death and subsequent calls for more border enforcement by presidential contenders, Rumbaut said.

“It’s a tribute to the strength of a strongly rooted stereotype,” Rumbaut said. “Stereotype in emotions and impervious to fact.”

The share of the foreign-born population in the United States went up from almost 8 percent in 1990 to more than 13 percent in 2013. At the same time, the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million in 1990 to 12.2 million in 2007.

But violent crime rates went down dramatically in about the same time period from about 730 incidents per 100,000 residents in 1990 to 368 in 2013.

Property crimes such as car theft and burglary also show the same downward trend, according to the study.

The report also shows the incarceration rate is consistently twice as high for those who were born in the United States.

An analysis of 2010 Census figures by the report’s authors found that roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males between 18 and 39 years old are incarcerated, compared with 3.3 percent of native-born males in the same age group. These numbers have held consistently since 1980, the report found.

“In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants,” the report said.

Yet in spite of these numbers, the report argues that Congress has increasingly drafted legislation that further criminalizes immigrants, most recently in 2008 with “Secure Communities,” a program that enabled the comparison of an arrestee’s fingerprints with immigration databases to catch people who were in the country illegally.

Through Secure Communities, immigration officials could request the suspect be held, resulting in the deportation of more than 306,000 people in 2013. Data from the Department of Homeland Security show that the majority of people deported in 2013 were for immigration-related charges — which means they were likely charged with entering the United States illegally more than once — and 14 percent had “unknown” charges.

But more than 77 percent of immigrants caught under Secure Communities had no previous criminal record, prompting complaints from immigrant advocacy groups and ending with new legislation in California that prevents local law enforcement agencies from complying with the immigration holds.

“These enforcement mechanisms driven by misconceptions have created a system different for citizens than for non-citizens,” said Daniel Martinez, assistant sociology professor at The George Washington University and co-author of the report.

The killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco was tragic, said Beth Werlin, policy director at the American Immigration Council, but “we can’t let the outrageous action of one person determine policy. What we want to do is have a policy discussion focused on what the data shows.”

The authors have been working on the report for about a year and its release has nothing to do with Steinle’s death and subsequent calls for more border enforcement by presidential contenders, Rumbaut said.

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