Tag Archives: crime

Crime in the US under open borders

Crime is a common concern regarding immigration among US restrictionists. The statistics on immigration and crime in the United States show pretty clearly that as things stand today, the foreign-born have lower crime rates than natives both in total and for every ethnicity and for every combination of ethnicity and high school graduation status. Nathan recently blogged about how immigration might also indirectly reduce native crime rates. So, restrictionists need not be worried about immigrant crime under the status quo.

But there’s still the concern about radical open borders to contend with: even if restrictionist concerns about immigrant crime are misplaced at current rates of migration, the concern may still be valid for truly open borders. Is it? It’s hard to say anything definitive, so if you believe in the precautionary principle, this is a slam dunk argument against open borders. However, I will try to argue in this post that there is no strong reason to believe that open borders would lead to a significant upward trend in US crime rates. In fact, I would say that the odds of crime rates going up versus down are about even, and they almost certainly will not explode.

The first point I will make is that even under the current highly restrictive immigration laws, there is some immigration, including “low-skilled” immigration, to the United States from all parts of the world. While border-crossing from Mexico forms the lion’s share of “low-skilled” immigration to the United States, there are also a few low-skilled work visas and, more importantly, a diversity visa that is not designed to pick out high-skilled workers but rather favors countries that send few immigrants to the United States. Thus, the current data on immigration and crime in the United States does shed some light on what might happen under a radically freer migration regime.

However, I will, for the moment, set this point aside. Assume for the moment that current immigration from a country is completely unrepresentative of what immigration from the country would look like under open borders. What method can we then use to approximate crime rates for immigration from that country? We could look at average crime rates in the sending country. I would argue that this would overestimate their crime rates in the United States for three reasons: Continue reading Crime in the US under open borders

Is Immigration the Best Way to Fight Crime?

I just came across this report from the Immigration Policy Center in 2008.

Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the nativeborn. In the early decades of the 20th century, during the previous era of large-scale immigration, various federal commissions found lower levels of crime among the foreign-born than the native-born. More recently, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform reached a similar conclusion in a 1994 report, as have academic researchers using data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census; the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health; and the results of community studies in Chicago, San Diego, El Paso, and Miami.

The problem of crime in the United States is not “caused” or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails.


In 2000, among men age 18-39 (who comprise the vast majority of the U.S. prison population), the incarceration rate for the native-born (3.5%) was five times higher than the rate for immigrants (0.7%).


In stereotyping immigrants as criminals, some anti-immigrant activists have pointed to estimates by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that one quarter of all federal prisoners in the United States are “criminal aliens.”

However, these estimates are highly misleading for two reasons:

Only about 8% of the 2.2 million persons behind bars in the United States at the end of 2005 were in federal prisons. The majority of inmates are in state prisons (57%) or local jails (34%).

Undocumented immigrants are likely to be transferred into the much smaller federal prison system simply on the basis of their immigration status even if they have not committed a criminal offense, or have committed an offense that is relatively minor.

I still think that completely open borders probably would cause a spike in crime. Immigration => poverty => crime is the chain of causation in my mind. That’s one of the only arguments against open borders that’s at all creditable, even if there’s no real evidence for it; crude theories are sometimes right, and sometimes the best guides we have to guess the effects of policies that step well outside the range of experience. I still support open borders, of course, but I think crime risks are a good reason to open the borders carefully and in a somewhat gradual manner. But we should always bear in mind that nothing remotely like an immigration-induced crime wave has actually happened. On the contrary, immigrants are more law-abiding than natives. The easiest way to keep crime down is probably to let in a few more of these law-abiding foreigners to restrain unruly natives.

UPDATE: I had planned to make this a simple “utility” post with a link to an interesting study, but I’m afraid I added more verbiage than I planned, and may have caused confusion. The last statement “let in a few more of these law-abiding foreigners to restrain unruly natives” may have come across as flippant. It actually conflates an obvious point with a more subtle, speculative point. The obvious point is that if immigrants have lower crime rates than natives, they’ll bring down average crime rates even if they don’t affect crime rates among natives. In that case, though, one couldn’t say except as a joke that they were “restraining unruly natives.” Continue reading Is Immigration the Best Way to Fight Crime?

Why do many US restrictionists use “non-Hispanic whites” as the normative comparison group?

While reviewing the page on Hispanic crime and illegal immigration in the United States, I noticed the following paragraph I’d written a while back while preparing the page:

Inclusion of blacks in native groups compared against?: Restrictionists generally compare the crime rate among Hispanics with that among “non-Hispanic whites” (rather than all Americans, which would include blacks). Supporters of Hispanic immigration claim that a better comparison would be against all Americans (including blacks). These two different types of analysis yield quite different conclusions because the crime rate among blacks in the United States is higher than that among all other racial categories (whites, Hispanics, and the numerically much smaller East Asians, South Asians, and other racial minorities).

At the time I wrote this, I didn’t clearly try to understand why so many restrictionists choose to use “non-Hispanic whites” as the normative comparison standard against which to judge Hispanic crime rates (and, by extension, the crime rates of prospective immigrants). [NOTE: If you read the page, you’ll discover that immigrants have lower crime rates than natives, both in total and when compared for specific ethnicities or specific combinations of ethnicity and high school graduation status. Restrictionists, however, prefer to consider the crime rates of Hispanics rather than immigrants, but this is a topic for another day.]

Here are a few random quotes from restrictionists illustrating this.

Tino Sanandaji comments on a blog post here:

Chinese textiles do not commit crime at 261% of the native white rate. [a reference ot Hispanics committing crimes at 261% the native white rate]

Another comment in a blog post on immigration here:

Hows this for a fear inspiring anecdote: The hispanic incarceration rate is 2.9 times the non-hispanic white rate…. oops, that’s a statistic. And yes, it should inspire fear if you have an ounce of rationality in you.

I haven’t been able to locate an explicit explanation from a restrictionist for why this choice was made, so I’ll just include my guesses here. I see two possible explanations for this choice by restrictionists.

Non-Hispanic white normativity as a principled position

One explanation is that the use of non-Hispanic whites as the normative comparison standard is a principled position. Non-Hispanic whites are treated as the “norm” or “normal”. Any individual or group that does as well as the non-Hispanic white norm is considered average. Any individual or group that does better than the non-Hispanic white norm is considered above average. For instance, in the context of height, groups whose average height is greater than that of non-Hispanic whites would be considered “tall” and groups whose average height is lower than that of non-Hispanic whites would be considered “short.”

Critical race theorists use the term “normativity” in conjunction with ideas of privilege and prejudice, but my use here does not connote either privilege or prejudice, though it might on on occasion be linked to these. It could be a form of “centric bias” whereby people believe that their own selves or immediate surroundings are the norm, standard, or prototype. It does not, however, mean that they automatically disparage different things. A person growing up poor may consider low incomes the “norm” but that does not mean disparagement of high incomes — quite the contrary, the person may be more easily impressed by mid-level incomes than somebody who grew up rich. In the same way, non-Hispanic white normativity does not indicate a disparagement of other groups.

Non-Hispanic white normativity as a trade-off

Here’s a more cynical explanation of non-Hispanic white normativity. Restrictionists, when choosing a comparison group to judge immigrants or immigrant ethnic groups against, have to balance two criteria:

  1. The immigrants or immigrant groups should perform clearly worse on the indicator than the comparison groups.
  2. The comparison group should be something that a large number of their readers can identify with.

In an ideal world, immigrant groups would show performance that’s clearly worse than natives on the whole, and hence immigrant groups could be compared directly against natives, or “all Americans” — this would appeal to a maximum number of Americans.

However, there are many cases, such as crime, where immigrants, and immigrant ethnic groups, don’t perform worse than natives on the whole in a clear way. Restrictionists thus need to narrow down the definition of native. At one extreme, the restrictionist could narrow down to “upper middle class college educated whites” or “Ph.D. Ashkenazi Jews” as a comparison group and immigrants/immigrant ethnic groups would perform quite badly in comparison. While this is great for (1), it compromises on (2) — the comparison group is too small and few readers would identify with it. The middle ground of choosing “non-Hispanic whites” or “native non-Hispanic whites” yields a sweet spot that makes immigrant groups look reasonably bad by comparison, and also allows a large number of readers to identify with the comparison group.

The chart featured at the top of this post is a breakdown of the US incarceration rate by race, as of 2006. Authored by the November Coalition and released into the public domain; found on Wikimedia Commons.