Scientific American, December 2020
When Donald Trump announced that he was running for president, one of the first issues he raised in his speech was immigration—specifically, the idea that undocumented immigrants are dangerous. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” he said.10 Sec
As Trump’s presidency nears its end, his unwavering views on immigration are directly contradicted by a growing body of criminology research. Studies overwhelmingly find no evidence that U.S. immigrants, including those who are undocumented, commit more crimes than native-born Americans. And now a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that draws from a detailed and well-sourced data set comes to an even more dramatic conclusion. It reports that between 2012 and 2018, compared with their U.S.-born neighbors, undocumented immigrants in Texas were less than half as likely to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses and less than a quarter as likely to be arrested for property crimes.
“Simply put, we found that undocumented immigrants have lower felony arrest rates than both legal immigrants and, especially, native-born U.S. citizens,” says study co-author Michael Light, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Charis E. Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the research, describes the paper as “completely groundbreaking.” It’s “another nail in the coffin of what we know about the link between immigration and crime,” she says.
Until now, scientists examining the relationship between immigration and crime had to address the issue broadly in part because many U.S. crime databases do not collect information on immigration status. Research has demonstrated that areas with more immigrants experience no more crime than places with fewer of them and that immigration surges do not lead to increases in illegal activity. The same has been shown to be true for undocumented immigrants in particular.