Immigrants and Crime

Virtually every study done points to the fact the immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are less prone to crime than American citizens.  That is why immigration opponents must rely on repetition of lurid single examples to try to make their case, a bit like global warming advocates point to individual heat waves as a substitute for having any warming show up in the recent global temperature metrics.

From the Foundation for Economic Education

With few exceptions, immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on crime rates. As described below, the research is fairly one-sided.

There are two broad types of studies that investigate immigrant criminality. The first type uses Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data from the institutionalized population and broadly concludes that immigrants are less crime prone than the native-born population. It is important to note that immigrants convicted of crimes serve their sentences before being deported with few exceptions.

However, there are some potential problems with Census-based studies that could lead to inaccurate results. That’s where the second type of study comes in. The second type is a macro level analysis to judge the impact of immigration on crime rates, generally finding that increased immigration does not increase crime and sometimes even causes crime rates to fall.

Butcher and Piehl examine the incarceration rates for men aged 18-40 in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses. In each year, immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives with the gap widening each decade. By 2000, immigrants have incarceration rates that are one-fifth those of the native-born

There is a lot more at the link.


  1. Dustin Barnard:

    I know you think that ends the discussion and proves that illegal immigrants are committing tons of crimes. But it actually means no such thing. That link lists a total of 75,000 federal criminal prosecutions. I couldn't find nation wide statistics on state criminal prosecutions, but here is California That link shows about 250,000 prosecutions in California alone last year. Roughly extrapolating that to the rest of the country gives around 2.5 million state criminal proceedings. Those 75,000 federal prosecutions are a drop in the bucked (about 3% of total prosecutions). And I'm betting if you look into it, you'll find illegal immigrants are almost always tried in federal courts (where as citizens or legal residences are generally tried in State courts). So yes, illegal immigrants make up a disproportionate number of federal prosecutions, but almost certainly because they tend to be tried in Federal courts as opposed to state courts. Those numbers say exactly nothing about the relative rate at which illegal immigrants commit crimes.

  2. Chris:

    They break the law to come here.

  3. Bwawahaha:

    I guarantee you that if immigrants committed fewer crimes, the government would be publishing direct data to support that. All these estimates by inference prove they are hiding the data. How many immigrants are arrested and convicted of crimes? Well, it's a mystery, because they want it to be.

  4. HenryBowman419:

    I really don't think that there are sufficiently reliable data to make a case one way or another. The Federal government actively hides the data — the Feds collect information on, it seems, everything, but have no idea what's going on w.r.t. immigrant (illegal or otherwise) crime rates. To me, that means someone in the Federal Government is lying (how very, very unusual).

    Occasionally a state will make the mistake of publishing some relevant data. New York State, for example, has published the fact that 30% of its prison inmates are "non-citizens". Now, I don't actually know the relative fraction of non-citizens who reside in New York State, but 30% seems a tad high to me.

  5. HenryBowman419:

    And I'm betting if you look into it, you'll find illegal immigrants are almost always tried in federal courts (where as citizens or legal residences are generally tried in State courts)

    This statement is almost certainly untrue. Many states try people without regard to their immigration status (some do not even inquire!). The data relevant to this discussion are truly hard to come by.

  6. ErikEssig:

    The elephant is still in the room, but not discussed.

  7. J K Brown:

    Well, one must be suspect of research that lumps legal and illegal immigrant together. Legal immigrant undergo a background check, such as can be done via foreign contacts, and so would naturally be selected for non-criminally inclined. Illegals, on the other hand, are not filtered.

    And we also know in many jurisdictions, especially in CA, the police don't bother with, at least, petty crimes by immigrants since the politics is against prosecution and there is no money to be extracted via fines. Perhaps it can be claimed that these petty crimes don't matter, but then that undermines the entire proven success of "Broken Window" policing that cleaned up many cities of violent crime.

    This, of course, does not negate the premise that illegal immigrants are less criminally inclined, excluding the immigration offense. It is simply to point out the problems with these studies of immigrants. Show me one that controls for illegal immigrants and for the inhibition of many police forces from recording illegal immigrant crime, then I'll accept the results.

    In the mean time, I still wonder why illegal immigrant felons who do end up arrested are released by sanctuary cities. The felon is more likely to prey on the non-criminal illegal immigrant community and a policy of turning illegal immigrant felons over to the feds doesn't undermine the valid need for local illegal immigrant population to see local police as a non-threat re their immigrant status.

  8. obloodyhell:

    I have made no effort to examine the study, but this is clearly a hot-button issue of similar political significance as AGW. How much justification do you have that this study, and many others, aren't being just as politically warped as AGW "studies" consistently are?

    I'm not claiming it is or isn't. I'm just asking about whether or not anyone has examined the opportunity for overt political bias in such studies. It seems inadvisably high.

  9. Dmon:

    Sorry, but you're completely ignoring the elephant in the room. Blacks commit violent crime at somewhere between 5 and 10 times the rate of whites (per BJS and DOJ numbers), and they are part of the native born population being counted. Furthermore, here in SoCal, immigrants from Mexico and Central America typically displace blacks (the next NWA album will probably be titled "Run Outta Compton"). As long as the new arrivals have a crime rate lower than say 5X that of whites, the crime rate will appear to drop as areas change from predominantly black to predominantly latin.

  10. Seekingfactsforsanity:

    Warren - Wow. The
    23rd was a busy day for blogging. The
    media, federal government, and sanctuary city officials always use the term
    immigrants (including both legal and illegal) and those who do not want illegal
    immigration refer to those coming in illegally as "illegals". The use of the term immigrants without the
    modifying "illegal" in this issue is meant only to make the issue
    less clear and to provide cover for the false accusation that those who support
    stopping illegal immigration are "racists". I see the illegal immigration issues daily in
    Houston - in the hospitals (my wife works in one and very aware of the activity
    in the hospital community), on the roads, and on the news regarding stabbings,
    shootings, and rapes. Illegal is illegal
    and we are not processing the illegal immigrants in a manner to determine their
    background, health, ability to be self-reliant, willingness to learn our
    history and language and simply integrate into our culture, etc. Cheap labor
    and voting power for the democrats is not a good reason to open the floodgates
    for illegal immigrants. Measured legal
    immigration should be the basis for immigration into our country - from all
    countries. And I agree that the
    statistics regarding "illegal Immigrant" crime statistics are suspect
    and maybe useless without some in depth research. And by the way, I have a wonderful Hispanic
    daughter-in-law whose family came legally from Mexico about 75 years ago.

  11. Penkville:

    I think this is hard data to come by in reality and so I doubt this study proves anything one way or another. But I also think your post is a little disingenuous, since 'most' people complaining about immigrants committing crime are actually complaining about the fact that immigrants that do commit a significant crime and that are in the country illegally, are not promptly ejected on conviction, or completion of their sentence. Is the US so short of immigrants that it can't pick and choose and shouldn't have the right (no, I should say obligation to its existing citizens) to make that choice?

  12. Adam:

    Agreed, 100% of illegal immigrants have knowingly committed a crime.

  13. mx:

    I agree that we're missing a lot of data that would be helpful here. However, prosecutions for illegal reentry and illegal entry are elusively federal and there are tens of thousands of them a year (this is, after all, what people opposed to illegal immigration want: people locked up in prison for several years for coming illegally). Since such a large proportion of all federal cases are people being prosecuted specifically for the crime of being illegal immigrants, you don't get to turn around and be surprised that so many of those charged with federal crimes are illegal immigrants.

    That would be like insisting that it's surprising that 50% of all produce at the grocery store are vegetables.

  14. vikingvista:

    As the expanse of data over the decades continues to grow, and remains one-sided, more and more nativists come out claiming that there just ain't enough data to know. Therefore, the nativist claim, illegals increase the crime rate.

    By their own admission, then, something other than evidence fuels their opinion. One wishes they would simply give their true reasons for their dislike of illegals.

  15. vikingvista:

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do you ever "break the law"? Do you hold as a universal principle that nobody should ever "break the law"?

  16. Chris:

    I think 99% of laws (regulations) are bullshit. But Warren wants to make a semantic argument here that illegals are not lawbreakers in general, and while I'm sure he meant serious malum in se laws, it doesn't change the fact they broke a pretty serious one to get here.

    Now if you ask me, I think we should have completely open borders, but then again I'm for eliminating all social programs that are draws to lots of illegal immigrants, no government schools, no obamacare, no welfare or food stamps.

  17. vikingvista:

    Will you support measures then to transfer resources from the persecution of illegals to accommodate the easy and rapid (say 30 days or so) legal migration of anyone who wants move here for peaceful reasons? If successfully passed, this would dramatically decrease the crime of being an illegal resident, as well as reduce other prohibition-related crimes.

  18. vikingvista:

    Why do you think law enforcement agencies would want to publish data that would undermine the need for law enforcement agencies?

  19. Adam:

    You're assuming I think universal immigration is good and I only don't like that they do it illegally. Not all peaceful immigrants are equal. Why wouldn't a rational person only want to import the net contributors? Or only import a set amount such that they don't drastically modify my existing and preferred culture?

  20. wreckinball:

    How can one calculate a crime rate which is number of crimes/number of people? We don't know the denominator because we don't know how many illegals we have. There are estimates but they vary all over the map.
    C'mon Warren. I know you are an open borders guy but you should know basic statistical BS since you follow the AGW battle. So lets just say we don't know.
    Which leads to two arguments. Isn't one crime too many. They are after all here illegally. And two, does not the rule of law apply because THEY ARE HERE ILLEGALLY! I mean this simple fact seems to get lost in the conversation thus the caps.

  21. vikingvista:

    He isn't making a semantic argument. Obviously if you are looking at the impact on society of a class of people who are declared "illegal", or if you are trying to judge the legislation that makes them so, you can't simply use legality as a discriminating variable--it wouldn't tell you anything.

    On top of that, the notions of legal and lawful are inconveniently conflated. Illegal is only relevant to the conversation (outside courts and law schools) when it happens to also coincide with unlawful. Murder, assault, robbery, rape, etc. are both illegal and unlawful, so one can use those crimes as measures of societal impact.

  22. vikingvista:

    "You're assuming I think universal immigration is good and I only don't like that they do it illegally."

    That's right. Because otherwise pointing out that illegals are illegal doesn't make any sense. It only makes sense if it is the legality that matters to you. If you don't like immigration types that are not captured by the legal/illegal dichotomy then you need to make a different point (such as in your subsequent reply).

    You see the proclamation that all illegals acted illegally used constantly. But you never see it used in a way that makes any sense, or that could long be defended by anyone but an extreme Javert.

  23. wreckinball:

    The illegal part? Is that enough?
    The absorption of taxpayer resources while being here illegally which last I checked a crime. How about that?
    To put it in perspective try not paying a ticket parking or moving. Its a misdemeanor, I mean a teeny weeny crime. You won't find sanctuary and you are here legally otherwise. They don't say you know what Viking has not committed any other crime so lets just not worry about this whole ticket thing.
    So maybe we can just enforce the law. Like they all swore to when they took office.

  24. vikingvista:

    The easiest and most successful way to address your complaint, is to make illegal residents legal. Is that what you support? Or is it instead something other than the illegality that actually bothers you?

  25. wreckinball:

    Amnesty? No not for it
    Secure the borders then enforce the law. I'm open for proposals about opening up immigration for future applicants but not present lawbreakers
    When you catch illegals deport even if they are in the interior
    I mean we catch and send prison escapees back to prison even if they are now far away from the prison. Heck even when they are in another country sometimes.
    Just enforce the present law and if it changes enforce the new law
    Simple and consistent

  26. Chris:

    I'm not sure I see any point to anything you've written. I stand by my first statement. All illegal immigrants broke a law coming here.

  27. wreckinball:

    I mean the easiest thing for law enforcement to do is ignore criminals Of course

  28. vikingvista:

    I guess your dodge answers my question. But just in case I'm underestimating you, let me put it another way. Does murder bother you only because it is illegal, or is there another reason?

  29. vikingvista:

    Okay, then what is the point in stating "All illegal immigrants broke a law coming here"?

  30. vikingvista:

    "Amnesty? No not for it"

    So I gather. What I can't seem to get out of you is, Why? Obviously if the answer to why is just that they are here illegally, you should support simply making them legal. If the answer is something else, you should be able to articulate it.

  31. Chris:

    well, since Warren's argument is that they are more lawful in general than citizens I thought it was a fair point to make that every single one of them has broken at least one well publicized (as in ignorance is no excuse) law.

  32. wreckinball:

    Because the importation of large number numbers of unskilled workers is not in our best interest
    They are a net minus to the taxpayer
    That's why we have the present law

  33. vikingvista:

    How can it be a fair or at all relevant point to make when the whole debate is over how such individuals *should* be treated by the government? You can't judge a "law" by simply declaring that it is a "law".

  34. vikingvista:

    Finally, thank you.

    So, if open immigration was not a net minus to taxpayers, you would support simply making them legal?

  35. Chris:

    First of all, that isn't the "whole debate" Warren mentioned how illegals are more inclined to be law abiding. I think it's relevant to mention their past illegal behavior.

    Now if you want to have a discussion on why you are wrong on illegal immigration we can do that.

  36. wreckinball:

    Sure but that's a fantasy. Until you eliminate the welfare state the incentive for the unskilled is obvious Just being here on welfare is better than laboring in Mexico
    Our present law which requires you to actually have a high value profession seems good to me
    We just need to enforce it

  37. Adam:

    A group of people who is known to have willing committed one crime is probably more likely to commit subsequent crimes than some control group. I prefer an immigrant from country X who goes through the correct process than one who commits a crime to circumvent that process. So, the legal/illegal thing does matter to me. I'm always surprised it doesn't matter to more people. Apparently they can't even comprehend the difference.

  38. HenryBowman419:

    I don't know about all crimes, but for homicides, the crime for which statistics tend to be most reliable, blacks commit homicides at a rate about 4X that of everyone else (FBI figures). I assume most of those crimes are gang-related, though I don't know that for a fact.

  39. vikingvista:

    "First of all, that isn't the "whole debate""

    So, your contention then is that Warren made this post because...he wants stricter enforcement of existing immigration laws? Or those arguing against him want looser enforcement?

    "I think it's relevant to mention their past illegal behavior."

    How can you? You think, e.g., that a Jew in 1930's Berlin who ripped of his armband is less inclined to be law abiding? How about a farmer in 1850's America who didn't turn in an escaped slave? A businessman who uses the company car to pick up his daughter from school? A NY clergyman who holds a weekly poker game with his friends? A young driver temporarily exceeding the speed limit when passing the tractor in front of him? A developer who does not report discovering an endangered yellow spotted thingamagig on his property?

    I could go on for pages, and I'm sure you could as well. Mere illegality tells you nothing useful, even when it doesn't represent circular reasoning (as the illegals-are-illegal argument clearly is).

    What is relevant? Past antisocial *behavior*, such as killing, assault, robbery, etc. Fortunately those behaviors also happen to be frequently illegal, so those crimes are looked at. Those crimes are not looked at merely *because* they are illegal.

    Given that some of Americans' greatest heros are considered heroic *because* of their illegal behavior (like treason and violent insurrection), it is particularly ironic that Americans would think the illegals-are-illegal argument would even ring true.

  40. vikingvista:


    Thank you. I do think you are wrong on everything else you said about immigration, but I'll leave those arguments for another day. I'm just happy you've come to realize that it is irrelevant to simply point out the legal status of residents. I'm sure your future posts will instead give your real reasons (as you gave in the last couple replies).

  41. Chris:

    I feel like i'm in the middle of a performance art piece.

    Here's a hypothetical for you. Kid goes in to take a SAT test and cheats off her friend whom she knows to be smarter than herself. Girl "scores" well and is admitted into schools because of her higher score, in front of people who did not cheat, maybe even potentially costing others a spot in that very school. Now if she goes on to use that degree to get job interviews because of the school that she attended and reap all kinds of rewards because of it, higher wages, benefits, social recognition, does that change anything about the nature of her being a cheater? Does it mean we reward her for cheating.

    What you are asking for is that if we don't like the illegal status we just make them legal as if they haven't reaped the rewards of being here first, being here illegally, when others who where not willing to do that are still in those native countries.

    I think you trying to compare illegals to WW2 era jews, or revolutionary founding fathers is fucking shameful, BTW.

  42. vikingvista:

    "A group of people who is known to have willing committed one crime is probably more likely to commit subsequent crimes than some control group."

    Given that it is probably not possible to assemble a control group of individuals who have not willingly done something illegal, are you saying that simply knowing (as opposed to not knowing) that a law breaker is a law breaker is predictive? This is doubtful.

    Are some behaviors predictive of similar future behaviors? Yes, but illegality is far too broad a classification. Confessing to speeding is probably not predictive of murder. You need to look at specific behaviors. Is overstaying a visa predictive of overstaying a visa? Probably. Predictive of armed robbery? Doubtful. And the best evidence actually shows it is a negative predictor.

  43. vikingvista:

    "Kid goes in to take a SAT test and cheats off her friend"

    So, you are saying that such cheating is only problematic if it illegal?

    "What you are asking for is that if we don't like the illegal status we just make them legal"

    I'm not asking for that. I'm saying that if the illegals-are-illegal argument that continue to stand by is at all sensible, then YOU should be asking for that.

    If, on the other hand, you come to instead realize that mere illegality is tells you nothing relevant, then you can pat yourself on the back for your intellectual advancement, and the argument can go on to something meaningful.

    "I think you trying to compare illegals to WW2 era jews, or revolutionary founding fathers is fucking shameful, BTW."

    Your belief that genocide, rape, murder, child molestation, slavery, etc. are problematic only when illegal *I* find offensive, but I'll keep the much deserved profanity to myself.

  44. Chris:

    I don't know why I continue to engage you but I'm going to pretend you have at least some intellectual curiosity.

    "Illegals are illegals argument" I stand by it because the act that they committed that was illegal gave them advantages against those who chose not to break the law, against those who chose to proceed in a legal manor, and also importantly by being a drain on our resources that should be used for citizens in important ways; emergency rooms, and education being obvious.

    I fundamentally disagree with the qualifier here "illegality tells you nothing relevant" it tells me a great deal. It tells me they are cheaters against the system and in life.

    And I don't believe that genocide rape murder, etc are problematic only when illegal. But thanks for trying to put words in my mouth, asshole.

  45. marque2:

    I don't know if this is mentioned below, but illegals are only cited for felonies any more, at least in CA. If you drive without insurance and registration, or are speeding have misdemeanor amounts of drugs on hand, the police policy is to cite you/take you in if you are a citizen, or white, and to let you go if you are a central American illegal. It has been deemed racist to charge them with any of these crimes because it is considered racist and because the police might have to report them. The car thing is because you are taking away economic opportunities. Tell that to the poor black citizen whose car is towed away. Even burglary is excused.

    The reason the crime is lower is probably because police refuse to charge illegals for the crimes they would charge everyone else.

  46. marque2:

    Also it should be noted almost none of the Hispanic on Hispanic crime is reported. Those estimated 80% of women who get raped in the journey to the US - those illegal Hispanic men doing the raping aren't getting reported on charged. Illegals tend to preu on poor domestic Hispanics and blackmail them as well, these files are underreported. I agree with some of the other folks who note the Federal government would be screaming about how crime free the illegals are and not about the 3000000 out of 11000000 that have been mailed. Hmm, that is a BLS study - seems like a high proportion of crime to me.

  47. Chris:

    Two things this conversation has really stuck with me.
    One, Ted Kennedy was a great driver if you don't count that woman he killed.

    And two you're still an idiot.

  48. vikingvista:

    Interesting two, as the former makes an irony of the latter.