NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 5, 2006

The rancorous debate about how undocumented workers affect jobs and wages in the United States will likely be rejoined soon.  So, too, will an equally rancorous, if less prominent, debate over whether immigrants make the United States more crime-ridden and dangerous, says Eyal Press in the New York Times Magazine.

In fact, the notion that communities with growing immigrant populations tend to be unsafe is fairly well established:

  • In a national survey conducted in 2000, 73 percent of Americans said they believe that immigrants are either "somewhat" or "very" likely to increase crime.
  • That is compared with 60 percent who fear they are "likely to cause Americans to lose jobs."
  • Cities like Avon Park, Fla., for example, have considered ordinances recently to dissuade businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, whose presence "destroys our neighborhoods."

But according to researchers, those assumptions may be wrong:

  • In San Diego and El Paso -- both with heavy Mexican immigrant populations --  the homicide rate for Hispanics was lower than for other groups, even though their poverty rate was very high, if not the highest.
  • Similarly, in Chicago, from 1995 to 2002, a survey found that the rate of violence among Mexican-Americans was significantly lower than among both non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

But while overall immigrant populations have low crime rates, the younger generations -- who have often assimilated into American culture -- are having a much more difficult time:

  • The incarceration rate among second-generation Mexicans was eight times higher than for the first generation.
  • Among Vietnamese, it was more than 10 times higher.
  • Where first-generation immigrants were less likely to wind up in prison than native-born whites, the second (with the exception of Filipinos and Chinese) were more likely.

Source: Eyal Press, "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?" New York Times Magazine, December 3, 2006.

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