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Crime and Immigration

Mariana Ruiz
The University of Texas at El Paso
RWS 1312
Paul J. Vierra
October 16, 2015



Immigration is an important issue in todays society. In the United States, immigrants are
often linked to crime. This relationship is becoming the center of attention in political debates.
People tend to believe that immigrants are a dangerous group, therefore they encourage policy
makers to create policies to prevent people from coming to the United States. However, contrary
to most peoples beliefs, immigrants seek to get a better life. Immigrants usually leave their
home countries to look for better jobs, education, government and societies. In this literature
review the relationship between crime and immigration will be studied and four research
questions related to the topic will be answered.



Todays political debate over immigration is mainly over the relationship between crime
and immigration. Recent immigration policies have been made according to the perception that
politicians and American citizens have over immigrants. For many years, immigrants have been
stereotyped as a group who is poorly educated, takes jobs from U.S citizens and brings crime to
the country. For this reason, the increase of immigrant population in the United States is a big
issue that concerns most Americans. This concern has brought researchers to study this topic and
contrary to many peoples beliefs, immigration does not bring a negative impact to the nation.
Between the years of 1990 and 2000, the country experienced a large increase in
population, mainly because of immigrants. Surprisingly, with this increase of immigrant
population, came a decline in crime rates (Wadsworth, 2010 p.531). Many studies have
attempted to find the cause for this drop on crime rates. Researchers have also tried to link these
crime rates with the increase on immigrant population. However, to this date it is impossible to
be certain of a relationship between crime and immigration because there are limitations to the
data that can be collected to prove that the reason to lower crime rates is the increase in
immigrant population in the United States. One of these limitations is that the U.S government
can never be certain of the actual number of immigrants living in the United States including
legal and illegal immigrants. Even though these limitations exist, researchers use other factors to
help determine the relationship between crime and immigration. By studying previous research
over crime and immigration we can determine the relationship between these two social factors.
To do so, these four questions will be answered:
1. What is the relationship between Crime and Immigration?


2. How is immigration affecting our society?

3. Is high immigrant population the reason for low crime rates in El Paso?
4. Do immigrants become more violent the longer they stay in the United States?
This literature review will provide information on how the link between crime and immigration
affects our society, whether this is a lifelong problem, and it will give facts about the relationship
of crime and immigration in El Paso.
What is the relationship between crime and immigration?
Research conducted over the relationship between crime and immigration proves that
immigration does tend to bring crime rates down in the United States. However, this relationship
occurs in cities where there is a high concentration of immigrant neighborhoods, and it does not
consider illegal immigrants. Ramey (2013) mentions that, there are different factors that limit
and make this question hard to answer. The major concern regarding this question is that the
government will never be able to report reliable data on the population census due to immigrants
who reside in the country illegally (p.597). Recent studies that have focused on investigating the
link between crime and immigration have only focused on heavily Latino neighborhoods in cities
like Los Angeles or Chicago (p.597). This studies do not take into account the rest of the
immigrant population who disperse across the country. Findings state that there is in fact a link
to lower crime rates related with immigration. However, this happens in small neighborhoods
established in destination cities (p.597). MacDonalds (2013) research agrees with Ramey, it
studies the relationship between immigrant concentration in neighborhoods and their low crime
rates. The study is based in the City of Los Angeles, which is described as a destination city, and
uses census tracts and official crime rate data. This study finds that in the years that immigration
boomed, crime rates were lower than usual (191-192). Daniel Mears (2001) argues in his article


that in order to address the relationship between immigration and crime, a clearer dimensional
framework needs to be developed. This framework should include clearer units of analysis and a
better understanding of the types of crime data and facts that are known (p.2). Mears also states
that the failure of fully understanding this dimensions, results in poorly developed immigration
policies (p.2). Joshua Freilich and Graeme Newman (2007) argue that government policies
addressing immigration are set to be political and rather than help address the issue they become
a bigger problem. This is because the government does not really know the amount of illegal
immigrants, therefore the data that is collected on legal immigrants and native citizens becomes
unreliable (p. xv). Ewing (2015) adds to the argument of poor immigration policies by
mentioning peoples perception on immigration. Immigration policy is being shaped around
peoples perception of immigrants, it is not effective. Major punishments, like deportation, are
being applied for minor crimes and immigrants are being labeled as criminals as a result (Ewing
et al. 2015).
Thorsten Sellin (1938) argues in the American Journal of Sociology, that infractions of
the law by immigrant groups occur mainly where there is a border between two cultures. Conflict
is more likely to happen between two cultures because of their differences. However, Sellin
mentions that his claim requires more research for different language and culture in immigrant
groups in the United States (p.103). Robert Sampsons (2008) claim for the low crime rates in
immigrant neighborhoods, is that immigrants (especially Mexicans) tend to migrate to places
where they are not likely to commit crime and they are motivated to have a job (p.30-31). Daniel
Mears (2001) adds to the argument by saying that people may be led to believe that immigrants
are bringing crime to the country due to what media has to say and the way anticrime policies ae


being targeted against immigrants. However, recent research proves that immigrants have lower
crime rates that people who are born in the U.S (2001).
How is immigration affecting our society?
Immigration is categorized as an external factor affecting society in the United States.
Some research says that immigrants affect our country in a positive way, and others claim that
culture assimilation may bring a negative impact to society. Newspaper article by Daniel Brooks
argues that since immigration has increased in the United States, it has done nothing but benefit
our society. Violent crime rates have decreased and the lives of young adults are improving
(2006). According to research by Graham Ousey and Charis Kubrin (2009), immigrants are less
likely to commit crime at an individual level. Immigration is recognized as a macro-level social
issue and research is being conducted to prove that immigration causes lower crime rates due to
strong family structures (p.447).
Immigration has brought a change in Americas number of minority groups, changing
society overall. According to Ramiro Martinez (2006) the latest wave of immigration altered the
racial and ethnic composition of the United States. African Americans were replaced by Latinos
as the largest minority group. These increasing numbers and diversity in minority groups are
heating the debate on what social problems immigrants will bring (p.1). Daniel Mears argues that
(2006) minorities are stereotyped to have high rates of male unemployment, drug abuse and
crime involvement (p.1). According to an article from the American Journal of Public Health, by
Robert Sampson (2005), race or ethnicity are not scientific factors that can be part of the causes
for violence. Race or ethnicity form part of external social settings that, in American society, can
be the cause of more or less violence among racial or ethnic minority groups (p.224)


In the book, Immigration and Crime, the authors, Martinez and Valenzuela (2006) discuss
previous research on the topic of crime and immigration and how it argued that immigrants were
biologically deficient therefore causing crime and disorder. This resulted in the enforcement of
immigration policy (2006). By enforcing immigration policy on the beliefs of immigrant
biological deficiency, which is not correct, our society is affected. Basing policy on incorrect
research will not be effective.
Is high immigrant population the reason for low crime rates in El Paso?
El Paso has recently been named the safest city in the country, researchers argue that the
reason for low crime in El Paso is the high number of immigrant neighborhoods. Lisa Garibay
covers in the UTEP news article a story where professor of criminal justice Theodore Curry is
leading a research study about immigration and its relationship with crime. This research is
conducted in El Paso, which has a high rate of immigrant neighborhoods (2015). In this research,
UTEP professor of sociology, Ted Curry, conducts research in the city of El Paso to discuss the
relationship of crime and immigration. His proposal says that El Paso is a high immigrant
neighborhood city ad that El Paso is one of the cities in the U.S with lowest crime rates (2011).
Mathew T. Lees (2003) book examines and rejects the idea of the criminal immigrant by
conducting research on the relationship between immigration, crime, and ethnicity in three
border cities: San Diego, Miami, and El Paso. Lees results state that ethnicity and immigration
are key components in the way patterns in violence are generated (2003). Sampsons (2008)
claim for the low crime rates in immigrant neighborhoods, is that immigrants, Mexicans in
particular, tend to migrate to places where they are not likely to commit crime and they are
motivated to have a job (p.30-31). Professor Currys research supports Sampsons claim in his
research proposal. According to Curry, the majority of the Immigrant population in El Paso is


made up by Mexicans (2011). People who have migrated to this border city are often looking for
and escape from their former country, in this case Mexico. Because of this, immigrants look to
stay out of trouble and look for ways to have a better life by getting educated, having a job and
not breaking the law.
Primary research was conducted to support claims that help answer this question. The table

El Paso Population 1960-2000









Total Population



Foreign Born Population




below shows data from the population census in the city of El Paso for the year nineteen-sixty to
the year two thousand. The table shows the number of total population and the number of foreign
born population in El Paso during this years. The second table shows the crime rates from the
FBI uniform crime rates in the United States and the city of El Paso for the same years (nineteensixty to two thousand).
(Campbell, Gibson 2007)


(FBI Uniform Crime Reports)

The purpose for this tables is to show the increase in population in El Paso and compare the
numbers with the drop in crime rates. Over the years, immigrant population has increased and
the crime rates have decreased. This information along with the claims made by researchers
supporting the facts about immigrant and crime rates in El Paso, help answer that in fact, high
immigrant neighborhoods in the city of El Paso help lower crime rates.
Do immigrants become more violent the longer they stay in the U.S.?
Immigrants who come to the United States tend to assimilate to the American culture,
therefore they tend to mimic the behavior of native born Americans. According to Griswold, the
reason for the drop in crime rates in major cities in the U.S is the increase on immigration,
regardless of the education or working skills and if the immigrants are legal or illegal. However,
Griswold (2009) argues that people who oppose immigration say that the legalization of
immigrants with these characteristics causes poverty, creating a new social class, chaos and
crime (p.42). According to a news video, Juan Castillo reported that a recent study by the
University of Texas says that immigrant teenagers are less likely to have a criminal behavior,
contrary to U.S.-born teenagers (2015).
Other sources claim that second generation immigrants will have in fact a more violent
behavior. According to Casey Burns, second generation immigrants is a term used to describe



people who have at least one parent born outside of the United States. Second generation
immigrants are more likely to be influenced by American culture. While first generation
immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated, second generation immigrant incarceration rates
seem to be increasing. This is due to the culture assimilation, because native citizens are more
likely to commit crimes, second generation immigrants mimic native acts (2010). Daniel Mears
also claims that immigrant youths are more likely to engage in criminal behavior due to the
difficulty of becoming part of the American culture (2001, p.3)
Although many researchers have studied the relationship between crime and immigration,
this research has been conducted only with the current available resources. The results of this
research attempt to argue that the increase in immigration brings a positive impact in the crime
rates in the country. However, this research is limited by the data on population and crime that
can be collected. While many will argue that immigrants only contribute with negative factors in
society, some researchers say that the difficulties that immigrants face in coming to a foreign
country actually encourages them to be more prosperous. This may include later generations of
immigrants. Second generations are said to be more assimilated in American culture, which may
cause either a positive or negative outcome in the long run.



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