Tuesday, February 27, 2007

immigration and crime

ImmigrationProfBlog brings us a report by Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing on immigrants and crime.

Here’s the abstract:

Because many immigrants to the United States, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, are young men who arrive with very low levels of formal education, popular stereotypes tend to associate them with higher rates of crime and incarceration. The fact that many of these immigrants enter the country through unauthorized channels or overstay their visas often is framed as an assault against the rule of law, thereby reinforcing the impression that immigration and criminality are linked. This association has flourished in a post-9/11 climate of fear and ignorance where terrorism and undocumented immigration often are mentioned in the same breath. However, data from the census and other sources show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population. The problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration.

This makes sense if you think about it for a minute. If out-of-status immigrants sneeze wrong in front of a cop, they will be deported. So they have the greatest incentive to stay out of trouble with the law. Permanent residents can also be deported for relatively minor offenses—almost any kind of drug possession charge, for instance. Those with the least incentive to strictly obey the law are U.S. citizens, who often, depending on their race and socioeconomic status, face the least serious consequences.

Some statistics from the report:

[A]bout three-fourths (73 percent) of Americans believed that immigration is causally related to more crime. That was a much higher proportion than the 60 percent who believed that “more immigrants were [somewhat or very] likely to cause Americans to lose jobs,” or the 56 percent who thought that “more immigrants were [somewhat or very] likely to make it harder to keep the country united.”

Here is the reality:

In 2000, 3 percent of the 45.2 million males age 18 to 39 in the United States were in federal or state prisons or local jails at the time of the census. Surprisingly, at least from the vantage point of conventional wisdom, the incarceration rate of nativeborn men in this age group (3.5 percent) was 5 times higher than the incarceration rate of foreign-born men (0.7 percent).

The foreign-born rate was nearly two-and-a-half times less than the 1.7 percent rate for native-born non-Hispanic white men and almost 17 times less than the 11.6 percent rate for native-born non-Hispanic black men. The lower incarceration rate among immigrants was found in every pan-ethnic category without exception. For instance, native-born Hispanic men were nearly 7 times more likely to be in prison than foreignborn Hispanic men, while the incarceration rate of native-born non-Hispanic white men was almost 3 times higher than that of foreign-born white men . . .

The incarceration rates of foreign-born Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans were the lowest of any Latin American immigrant group even though they were the least educated. These three nationalities are precisely the groups that make up the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States.

But, true to the propensity of each succeeding generation to define the nation as constituted by immigrants while denigrating those most recently arrived, an earlier study reached identical results—in 1901.

In a sense, these findings should not come as news, for they are not new—merely forgotten and overruled by popular myth. In the first three decades of the 20th century, during the previous era of mass immigration, three major government commissions came to similar conclusions. The Industrial Commission of 1901, the [Dillingham] Immigration Commission of 1911, and the [Wickersham] National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement of 1931 each sought to measure how immigration resulted in increases in crime. Instead, each found lower levels of criminal involvement among the foreign-born and higher levels among their native-born counterparts. As the report of the Dillingham Commission concluded a century ago: “No satisfactory evidence has yet been produced to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate to the increase in adult population. Such comparable statistics of crime and population as it has been possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are native Americans.”

This also is somewhat disturbing:

[I]mmigrants, especially those from Latin America, have lower rates of adult and infant mortality and give birth to fewer underweight babies than natives despite higher poverty rates and greater barriers to health care. But their health status—and that of their children—worsens the longer they live in the United States and with increasing acculturation.

The authors attribute this to "an ‘American’ diet high in fats, sugars, and processed foods," leading to "sharp increases in obesity and in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure."

In addition, assimilation often entails incorporation into “minority” status in the United States, particularly among poor immigrants from non-European countries. As a result, the children and grandchildren of many immigrants—as well as many immigrants themselves the longer they live in the United States—become subject to economic and social forces that increase the likelihood of criminal behavior among other natives. This is especially true in impoverished communities where the native-born in particular are much more likely than immigrants (especially recent immigrants) to experience higher rates of divorce and drug and alcohol addiction.

This is too bad, since for many immigrants, it seems that as their absolute standard of living increases, their relative quality of life decreases. And this is achieved by many through extraordinary sacrifice in pursuit of the American dream.

I guess there’s nothing more American than fighting for the right to destroy yourself.

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