Unless you’re Donald Trump, you’re probably aware that an overwhelming amount of research shows immigrants commit crimes at significantly lower rates than U.S. citizens. In fact, when immigrants move into an area, crime tends to decrease.
But until recently, almost all the research combined documented and undocumented immigrants, leaving the door open for the Trump administration and its supporters to say things like this:
“[P]eople who are legal immigrants tend to be extremely law-abiding, but illegal immigrants commit crimes at extremely high rates.” That’s John Lott, founder of the Crime Prevention Research Center, speaking to the Washington Post in January.
However, within the last year, five studies were published that distinguish between undocumented and documented immigrants.
Increased undocumented immigration was significantly associated with reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests.
Unfortunately, the study that got the most attention was from Lott himself and was the only one that claimed undocumented immigrants commit crimes at higher rates. Like Lott’s previously discredited studies, though, it was extremely misleading and manipulative.
Lott deliberately incriminated law-abiding DACA recipients by saying his study was about “DACA-age immigrants.” Plus, he even admitted that some of the criminals included in his study may have been smugglers who merely crossed the border to drop off drugs or people – in other words, they were not immigrants, and most certainly were not DREAMers.
Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute discovered that Lott had mistakenly assumed a category in the Arizona Department of Corrections’ data called “non-U.S. citizen and deportable” referred only to undocumented immigrants. Actually, that category also includes legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas. So Lott included both undocumented and documented immigrants in his assessment.
Nevertheless, his study went viral among sites like Breitbart and was referenced by Jeff Sessions in a speech: “One study that just came out looked at the prison population in Arizona and found that illegal aliens are more than twice as likely to be convicted of crimes as Arizonans,” Sessions said. “They’re more likely to be convicted of sexual assault, robbery, and driving under the influence. They’re more than twice as likely to be convicted of murder.”
But four recent academic studies contradict Sessions’ and Lott’s claims, revealing that undocumented immigrants in fact do not raise crime rates.
There were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions among undocumented immigrants compared to U.S. natives in Texas in 2015.
A first-of-its-kind study published in March in the peer-reviewed journal Criminology examined 50 states plus Washington, D.C. between 1990 and 2014. “The results… reveal that undocumented immigration does not increase violence,” wrote the study’s authors. “Rather, the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative, although not significant in all specifications.”
The same authors examined non-violent crime – specifically drug- and alcohol-related crimes – during the same time period. The results? “Increased undocumented immigration was significantly associated with reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests, net of other factors. There was no significant relationship between increased undocumented immigration and DUI deaths.”
Yet another study, from the Cato Institute, focused on Texas, where, unlike many places, the entire state keeps records of the immigration status of arrestees. This study found that, in 2015, there were 1,749 criminal convictions of U.S. natives for every 100,000 natives; 782 criminal convictions of undocumented immigrants for every 100,000 undocumented immigrants; and 262 criminal convictions of legal immigrants for every 100,000 legal immigrants. When you take into account each group’s share of the total population, there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions among undocumented immigrants compared to U.S. natives.
And a fourth study published in the current issue of the journal Migration Letters discovered that young undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than their documented and native peers.