President Trump’s singular obsession with the construction of his promised border wall has reached a crescendo in recent months: it triggered the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history and more recently it is the subject of his unprecedented move to use a declaration of National Emergency to override Congress and provide $8 billion for a partisan political project.
Setting aside questions about whether border barriers are ever able—or even intended—to produce “security” for the nations they aim to “protect” (Brown 2010, Jones 2012, Alatout 2009), Trump has worked diligently to convince the country that immigration makes the United States less secure. Of course, this assertion is apparently not based on any consultation with data or based in reality. Trump’s strategy of turning his “alternative facts” into common sense truths is eerily similar to that used by George W. Bush’s administration to convince the public that there was a relationship between the 9/11 attacks and the country of Iraq. Both strategies, of course, tap into longstanding and widely-held stereotypes about a racialized other.
Luckily, there are a great number of knowledgeable people who have dedicated their careers to asking and answering the question of what the relationship is—if there is one—between immigration and crime. In what follows, I will do my best to concisely present the main conclusions that this large body of scholarly research has provided us. I wrote this short piece to join the chorus of voices combatting dangerous disinformation about immigration. It is my hope that this information might be used by neighbors, friends, teachers, students, and family members to engage in empirically-grounded discussions about a topic that has, unfortunately, mostly been discussed without concern for the empirical reality.
So, what does the research tell us?
The general consensus among scholars is that immigration is not associated with increased crime. Not with crime in general, not with violent crime, not with property crime. Period.
In fact, some scholars even argue immigration might actually be associated with a reduction in crime (Lee and Martinez , Light and Miller 2018, Reid et al. 2005). That’s right—while not totally conclusive, there is some evidence that cities and neighborhoods with more immigrants might actually tend to have less crime.
The take-away: While we often hear politicians say that allowing immigrants—undocumented or documented—into the country puts us at risk, this is simply not based in reality. It is a fabrication. A myth. False.
Give me the details, please!
I’ll summarize a few of the interesting conclusions reached by scholars who study this topic. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, but still representative of the general conclusions in the field more broadly.
Sarah // Madison, Wisconsin
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.