McCarthy: Exposing falsities on immigration and crime

How and why immigrants are helping reduce crime rates.

Kate McCarthy

Students of all ages bemoan the usefulness of coursework in school, critical of whether or not what they learn will apply to “real life.” This is why my ears perked up in SOC 4141H: Juvenile Delinquency, when my professor mentioned the negative correlation between immigration and crime rates. During the reverberation of the DACA repeal and increasingly brewing anti-immigrant sentiment, a sociological argument for immigrants (and their positive impact on the country) was welcome. 

Normally, if I were to address issues of immigration in a column, I would hurtle at it from an emotional, anecdotal, social justice-motivated angle. But this is an instance where I’ll call upon stats and facts. Across the board, it’s widely held that on average, immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. For example, Mexican-born immigrant males aged 18-39 without a high school diploma had a lower incarceration rate in 2010 than all native-born males of the same age group, according to the American Immigration Council. That is 1.6 percent of immigrant males incarcerated compared to 3.3 percent of native-born. If we are talking sociologically, why is this?

Let us go over some of the points made in my sociology class. For one, if someone is new to a country, and worked hard to get there, they aren’t arriving only to jeopardize it. Interestingly, second generation children of immigrants are actually more likely to act criminally than their parents, “because the children of immigrants lose the cultural and social attributes that buffered their parents from criminal offending…”, according to a report by the Sentencing Project. The report goes on to pinpoint strong familial ties, political participation, orientation to the justice system and economic impact as reasons that immigrants help lower crime rates. Immigrant youth are less cynical about the law and see negative involvement with it as having greater consequences than the native-born population. Criminal justice interaction could interfere with their immigration status, and they’ve often deliberately come to the U.S. expressly for safety and better opportunities, so caution is necessary. 

In recent decades, an influx of immigrants has occurred jointly with a drop in reported crime rates. In 1990, the reported violent crime rate was 730 offenses per 100,000 residents. In 2014, it was halved at 362 offenses per 100,000 residents. Being introduced into a new society and seeing opportunities for economic or political representation inspires a desire to integrate and succeed.

The people who have risked everything and uprooted their lives, for one reason or another, to move to the US are not the aimless riff raff come to loot the streets that some political leaders would like us to think. Many that make it here are the people that are motivated to do good—28.5 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2014 were immigrants. So the next time you’re confronted with generic anti-immigrant vitriol, call your adversary’s attention to some facts they might have overlooked. Immigrants do indeed make this country great — just check out the numbers.