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President Donald Trump accuses immigrants of being criminals.
Law enforcement and researchers largely disagree.
“There’s no wave of crime being committed by the immigrant community,” said Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston, responding to Trump administration claims that its immigration enforcement crackdown is justified by threats to public safety.
“As a matter of fact,” Acevedo added, “a lot of the violent crime that we’re dealing with is being committed by people that are born and raised right here in the United States.”
The data backs him up — overwhelmingly.
Decades of research conducted in many locations by a variety of scholars using a range of methodologies all point to one conclusion: There is no link between immigration and the prevalence of crime. That goes for immigration in all forms, lawful and otherwise.
The simplest test involves examining whether an increase in the immigrant population is associated with increasing crime. A recent study by a team of scholars at four universities examined data from 200 metropolitan areas across four decades (1970-2010). As a general pattern, this massive data trove showed that crime rates actually fell as immigrant populations grew, and the negative correlation between immigrants and crimes held as clearly for violent felonies as for minor property crimes.
That basic finding — more immigrants mean less crime — also emerged from a meta-analysis of 50 studies conducted between 1994 and 2014. Some of those studies found the most powerful impact in communities with high concentrations of immigrants. One common explanation is that immigrants have often revived decaying urban neighborhoods, increasing income levels and spurring economic growth.
The picture does not change when the focus shifts to unauthorized migrants.
A major study published in March 2018 by the academic journal Criminology examined data from across the country covering a period of rapid growth in the unauthorized population (1990-2014) and found that undocumented migration does not increase violent crime. In fact, just the opposite holds in many cases with growth in the unauthorized population being associated with lower crime rates Drawing on extensive research literature, the authors conclude that unauthorized immigration attracts ambitious people intent on success given the difficulties of reaching the United States and of surviving here out of status. Moreover, success as an unauthorized immigrant requires steering clear of any activities that will attract the attention of law enforcement.
Another 2018 study published in the journal Migration Letters took the analysis another step by comparing unauthorized young people with legal residents and U.S. citizens of the same age. The findings again showed that the unauthorized produce less crime than their legal and citizen peers.