Murder and Immigration: An Inconvenient Truth
At a roundtable meeting with county sheriffs this week, President Trump suggested the murder rate is at a historic high. The nation’s murder rate however, is currently at less than half its peak.
According to the FBI, the murder rate for 2015, the last year for which data are available, was 4.9 per 100,000 people. Every year between 1965 and 2010, the FBI reported a higher rate than that. In 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1991, the murder rate was at least twice as high as the 2015 rate.
When asked about President Trump’s comments on CNN today, Rick Santorum said, “You’re right the overall rate of murder has gone down and frankly, part of that is demographic. The country is getting older and part of that is demographic.”
In a sense, Santorum was correct in assuming that the drop in our national murder rate is tied to demographic trends. Those trends however, have more to do with an increase in immigration than to an aging American population.
While the past 15 years has seen the most rapid drop in murder rates in the nation’s history, it has also seen one of the sharpest increases in immigration since the early part of the 20th century. If immigration hard-liners are to be believed, the two should not be happening simultaneously, and yet they are.
In “Rethinking Crime and Immigration,” Harvard sociologist and criminologist, Robert J. Sampson shared the findings of his extensive study on this subject. Sampson and his colleagues selected whites, blacks, and Hispanics (primarily Mexican-Americans) from 180 neighborhoods ranging from highly segregated to very integrated. They also analyzed data from police records, the U.S. Census, and a separate survey of more than 8,000 Chicago residents who were asked about the characteristics of their neighborhoods.
What they found was a significantly lower rate of violent crime among Mexican-Americans compared to blacks and whites. A major factor was the fact that more than a quarter of those of Mexican descent were born abroad and more than half lived in neighborhoods where the majority of residents were also Mexican. In particular, first-generation immigrants (those born abroad) were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans. Second-generation immigrants were 22 percent less likely to commit violence than the third generation. This pattern held true for non-Hispanic whites and blacks as well. Their study further showed living in a neighborhood of concentrated immigration was directly associated with lower violence. Immigration thus appeared “protective” against violence.
A related cultural implication, while perhaps provocative, is worth considering. If immigration leads to the penetration into America of diverse and formerly external cultures, then this diffusion may contribute to less crime if these cultures don’t carry the same meanings with respect to violence and crime.
Sampson’s findings have also been corroborated in recent peer reviewed studies. In a paper published this year in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, Robert Adelman, University of Buffalo, Lesley Reid, University of Alabama, along with Gail Markle, Saskia Weiss and Charles Jaret, investigated the correlation between immigration and crime. The most striking finding from their research is that for murder, robbery, burglary and larceny, as immigration increased, crime decreased, on average, in American metropolitan areas.
For the past ten years, Charis E. Kubrin, University of California, Irvine, and Graham Ousey, College of William and Mary have been studying how immigration to an area impacts crime. Across their studies, one finding remains constant: Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence, all else remaining equal.
Findings from their most recent study, to be published in the upcoming issue of The Annual Review on Criminology, further strengthen these conclusions.
They systematically evaluated available research on the immigration-crime relationship in neighborhoods, cities and metropolitan areas across the United States. They examined findings from over 50 studies published between 1994 and 2014. Their analysis of the literature reveals that immigration has a weak crime-suppressing effect. To put it bluntly, more immigration equals less crime. In other words, if you are looking for a safe community to raise your family, I would suggest you consider moving to one with a substantial immigrant population.
Few politicians have done more to exploit worries about illegal immigrants and crime than president Trump. His false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime have been well documented.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. 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. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
President Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public perception that crime is correlated with immigration. The facts however, negate his position; tell a completely different story and point to a narrative that won’t be easily accepted by those who support him. Given the current administration’s anti-immigrant stance, the facts appear to be a rather inconvenient truth.