A new study led by researchers from the University of Buffalo found no evidence supporting the idea that immigration promotes crime. In fact, the exact opposite might be true, as certain types of crimes seem to go down in cities with high immigration.

Image credits Rebecca / Pixabay.

This might not come as a big surprise if you don’t feel the need to be made great again, but there isn’t much backing the case that immigration increases crime. There will always be political capital to be gained from such populist rhetoric, however — if you don’t mind creating a culture of hate and dividing a nation. It’s a much older discussion which has resurfaced with a vengeance during the last election and in its wake.

But it doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny, as a new paper led by UB associate professor of sociology Robert Adelman shows. In fact, immigration might actually lower the incidence of certain criminal behavior.

“Our research shows strong and stable evidence that, on average, across U.S. metropolitan areas crime and immigration are not linked,” he said.

“The results show that immigration does not increase assaults and, in fact, robberies, burglaries, larceny, and murder are lower in places where immigration levels are higher. The results are very clear.”

Previous studies on arrest and offense records have shown that overall, foreigners are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, Adelman said. So instead of focusing on individual cases, he and his team wanted to get a wider picture. They studied large-scale immigration patterns to see if they correlate to increases in a community’s level of crime through the often-touted mechanisms such as ‘they’re taking all our jobs.’

Tear down this wall (of misinformation)

Image credits Silvia & Frank / Pixabay.

The team drew on a sample of 200 metropolitan areas (as delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau). This included all metropolitan areas with a population exceeding one million, and several smaller ones (75,000 to 1 million) chosen randomly. The team corrected for the specific economic condition in each area, then compared their respective census data and uniform crime report data from the FBI between 1970 to 2010. Their results suggest that as the relative size of foreign-born population (FBP) increases, the rate of violent crime, murder, and robbery all decrease.

The paper states that for samples of 100,000 people, every 1% increase in FBP “decreases the overall violent crime rate by 4.9 crimes.” A one percent FBP increase translated to a decrease in 0.11 murders (which is small, but significant considering the relatively low number of murders per 100,000 people), and a 4.3 decrease in robbery. The team also notes that the percentage of foreign-born population isn’t strongly linked to aggravated assault, but that “it is important to note that the direction of the effect is negative.”

“This is a study across time and across place and the evidence is clear,” said Adelman. “We are not claiming that immigrants are never involved in crime. What we are explaining is that communities experiencing demographic change driven by immigration patterns do not experience significant increases in any of the kinds of crime we examined.”

“And in many cases, crime was either stable or actually declined in communities that incorporated many immigrants.”


Adelman adds that the relationship between crime and immigration is complex and more research is needed to understand it. But his research adds to a body of literature concluding that immigrants, as a whole, contribute to America’s social and economic life.

“Facts are critical in the current political environment. The empirical evidence in this study and other related research shows little support for the notion that more immigrants lead to more crime.”

“It’s important to base our public policies on facts and evidence rather than ideologies and baseless claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without any facts to back them up,” he concluded.

The full paper “Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades” has been published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice.

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