Tag Archives: Hispanic immigration

The Moral Imperative of Open Borders Trumps (Pun Intended) Immigrant Crime Rates

Many in the U.S. are currently focused on the amount of crime committed by immigrants in the country. This is due to remarks made by presidential contender Donald Trump in June and a murder allegedly committed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in July.  Mr. Trump suggested that many Mexican immigrants are criminals. In this post I argue that even if it were true that immigrants would increase crime rates in America, open borders would still be justified.

In response to Mr. Trump’s remarks and the San Francisco murder, both The Washington Post  and The New York Times have noted that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has surveyed the research on immigration and crime rates and drawn a similar conclusion. The Immigration Policy Center also released a report which states that “the available evidence indicates that immigrants are not only less likely to end up behind bars than the native-born, but that immigrants are also less likely to commit criminal acts to begin with.” (p. 9) In a 2012 post, Vipul  communicated the same message that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans.

Focusing on Mexican and Hispanic immigration, Mr. Nowrasteh notes that although one study showed that Mexican immigrants were committing more property crimes than native-born Americans, another demonstrated that Mexican immigrants “had no effect on violent or property crime rates in major U.S. metropolitan areas.” He also cites a study on Hispanic immigrants in Chicago that found that they were much less prone to committing violent criminal acts than native whites or blacks in the city.

The Immigration Policy Center offers an explanation for why immigrants commit less crime: “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. Unauthorized 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.” (p. 20)

What about the crime rate of the offspring of immigrants? They do appear to become more prone to crime than their immigrant relatives, which an editor at the Pew Research Center calls the “dark side of assimilation.” An article on reason.com notes that “every year that an immigrant lives in the U.S. is associated with a 1.9 and 0.9 percent increase in nonviolent and violent crime respectively.” In addition, “the behaviors of the children of immigrants over time begin to resemble that of native-borns.”  However, the offspring do not appear to commit more crimes than Americans generally.  (Census data from 2000 indicate that U.S.-born young males of Mexican, Cuban, and three Southeast Asian ethnicities are incarcerated at higher rates than the overall U.S.-born average. Vipul notes, however, that “locking out entire ethnic groups due to the anticipated future crime rates of their descendants based on past data, which aren’t that much higher than native rates anyway, causes substantially more harm than letting them in and dealing with a crime rate that might fall less slowly or rise slightly in the future.”)

But could this picture of relatively low immigrant criminality change under open borders, which would mean a larger flow of immigrants and probably higher proportions from certain countries? Vipul explored this question in his 2012 post and concluded that with open borders “the odds of crime rates going up versus down are about even, and they almost certainly will not explode.” In reaching this conclusion, Vipul noted that the future orientation associated with migrants is generally incompatible with criminality, that the worldwide crime rate is similar to that of the U.S., that much of the immigration to the U.S under restrictive immigration laws already comes from countries with relatively high crime rates (other countries in the Americas), and that India and China, which likely would be the sources of large numbers of immigrants under open borders, have lower crime rates than the U.S.

Some Americans who care only about the well-being of citizens  might call for an end to immigration altogether, let alone open borders, because one citizen death caused by immigrants, in their view, might be too many. If it were possible to stop immigration, that policy would eventually lead to no more murders or other crimes committed by immigrants because there would be no immigrants. (But of course the inevitable reproduction of the citizen population would lead to the creation of more people who would commit crimes, so they would have watch out for these new citizen criminals. They might also have to worry about the migration of citizens within the country who might commit crimes in their new areas of residence.)

More thoughtful American citizenists might look favorably on the impact of immigration on crime under the status quo of immigration restrictions that allow some immigration. Looking at the data, they might think, “The immigration system works pretty well right now in terms of crime. Those immigrants who make it into the U.S. are generally more law abiding than us citizens. They are revitalizing blighted urban areas, which reduces crime, and places with concentrated immigration are especially safe.  (p. 6) If they are really knowledgeable, they might say, as does Mr. Nowrasteh, that perhaps by “contributing to greater economic prosperity through pushing natives up the skills spectrum through complementary task specialization,” immigrants keep some Americans away from crime. They might agree that “It is easy to focus on the horrible tragedies when somebody is murdered by an immigrant but it’s very hard to imagine all of the people who weren’t murdered because of the lower crime rates created by increased immigration.” However, despite Vipul’s arguments that crime rates would most likely not explode under open borders, they wouldn’t want to take that risk. Besides, they would probably have other concerns about immigration’s impact on citizens.

However, from an open-borders perspective, even if crime rates were to increase significantly under an open borders policy, the moral importance of having open borders outweighs such a development. (The manifesto of the group No One Is Illegal similarly suggests that principle should trump the concrete consequences of immigration, whether positive or negative. Since the consequences can change, “statistics are useful to refute distortions and lies, but cannot be the bedrock of our opposition to controls.” ) In a previous post, I noted two strong moral arguments (from Joseph Carens and Michael Huemer) for open borders, both of which would countenance large increases in crime levels under open borders, should they occur. For both arguments, the right to open borders could be overridden only if the flow of people under open borders led to a “breakdown of public order” or a “disastrous” result in the receiving country. A significant increase in the crime rate, unlikely as it would be, would not constitute such a cataclysm.

In sum, the evidence strongly suggests that currently immigrant crime rates are lower than those of native-born Americans. The crime rates of immigrants’ offspring resembles those of Americans but doesn’t appear to be higher. Vipul has convincingly argued that under open borders the crime rate in the U.S. likely wouldn’t change dramatically. Even if it did, an open borders policy would still be morally warranted.

The photograph of Donald Trump featured on this post was taken by Gage Skidmore and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.

Movies About Open Borders, Family, and Cannoli

We’ve reached that part of the year where most of the western world is simply resting. The exact traditions may vary, but chances are that your home currently houses a good portion of your extended family. Even those who might wish to return to work can only manage to escape for a few minutes before being dragged into a game of twister or having a plate of food placed in front of them.

In recognition of this allow me to offer the following family-friendly movie recommendations. Although these films center around migration they don’t attempt to shove political messages down your throat so don’t worry about getting into fights with relatives.

Name: Under the Same Moon (2007)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: The film tells the story of Carlitos, an unaccompanied child, as he makes his journey to reunite with his mother in Los Angeles. Especially topical given this past summer’s events.

One of the things I love about this film is that it was released seven years ago during the Bush administration well before DACA had been announced or Obama was even a household name.



Name:  Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Language: English

Summary: Follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler who served in the White House through the 20th century. Cecil was born in the south but migrates northward, eventually finding himself in DC, in search of better economic opportunity. The film is rare is being one of the few to address the Great Migration, the mass migration of blacks from the south to the north, midwest, and western US.

The later half of the film deals with Cecil’s struggle with his son. His son believes that blacks must confront institutional racism in the south through direct action. Cecil on the other hand seems to think that the best course of action is to migrate out of the south.


Name: An American Tail (1986)

Language: English

Summary: Follows a group of Russian mice who have migrated to New York City. During their journey across the Atlantic their youngest son, Fievel, gets lost and must find his family in the new country.

Although the film depicts fictional cartoon mice, it is inspired by the real experiences of migrants entering the United States during the turn of the century.


Name: Instructions Not Included (2013)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: Dead-beat Valentin wakes up one day to find a baby on his porch along with a note stating that he is the father. The film follows Valentin and his daughter’s (Maggie) lives as they migrate to America in search of a better life.

The film breaks stereotypes at every turn and it pays off well.

Maggie might have entered the United States illegally but she has white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. Her mother had been an American tourist.

Valentin spends well over a decade in the United States and can’t speak English, but the film goes out of its way to make it clear this is because Valentin is a dead beat. In an early scene Valentin is shocked when he tries to speak with others he assumes to be fellow Mexican migrants only to discover they aren’t fluent in Spanish.


Name: The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, and 1990)

Language: English

Summary:  A generational epic that follows the Corleone family beginning with the patriarch Vito’s migration from Sicily to the New York City, continuing with Micheal, and ending with the third generation.

The Godfather Trilogy is one of those films everyone knows about, but which few people have sat down long enough to fully enjoy. For example, one of the prevailing themes of the film is assimilation and I don’t think many people get that.

In the opening scene of the trilogy we are greeted by the ‘I believed in America‘ speech delivered by an Italian migrant. The migrant tells us how he put his trust in the American dream, raised his children as good Americans, and followed the American law but was still met with injustice. So to wrong that justice he went to Don Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding…

I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion…

Don Vito himself makes it clear that he knows he is looked down upon as a petty criminal, but he doesn’t feel the need to apologize for his actions since all he has done was with the hope that his children could be full Americans. He looked forward to the day when one of his descendants would be ‘Senator Corleone’.



Name: My Family (1995)

Language: English and Spanish

Summary: Another generational epic in the same vein as the Godfather trilogy. My Family depicts the Sanchez, a Mexican-American family that settles down in East Los Angeles.

As readers must have noted by now, quite a bit of recent films depicting migrants focus on hispanics. This should be no surprise given that hispanics have dominated migration waves in the past decades. My Family is unique among Hispanic-migrant oriented films in that it doesn’t really deal with illegal immigration.

The film does deal with the Chicano movement, the Bracero program, the Mexican-American War, the Salvadoran Civil War, and other events crucial to understanding American Hispanic culture but its clear that its catering towards those American Hispanics who are already at the end of the assimilation cycle.

The film begins with the family patriach moving to Los Angeles to live with an uncle. The uncle, nicknamed El Californio, makes it clear that he isn’t a Mexican-American. He was born in California before it was lost to transferred over to the US following the Mexican-American War. El Californio was born in Mexico and as far as he’s concerned he still lives in Mexico.

His relatives on the other hand are less nationalistic and you note this by the language the characters speak in. Early on Spanish dominates the film but around midway the use of Spanish becomes less frequent. At the end of the film the use of Spanish is rare.

Worried about Hispanic immigration to the US? Your worst fears have already come true

More than any other country in the world, the US epitomises a country welcoming to immigrants. Its legacy of reaping the boons of immigration, and outsized influence on the world stage are why we so often discuss it on Open Borders, even if we firmly stand behind open borders across the world. In recent years, the US has been setting a bad example for the world on immigration, and we need to set the record straight. Americans today are happy to embrace their immigrant past, but reluctant to face their immigrant future. But these are two sides of the same coin — and the past tells us that American restrictionists’ worst fears have already come to pass — and gone.

Immigrants from Asia, Africa, and above all, Central and Latin America are taking centre stage in the US today. Hispanics especially represent the future of American immigration. As a result, any American can present you with a laundry list of concerns about Hispanic immigration:

  • They are low-skilled and poorly educated
  • They don’t learn our language
  • Their culture is rude, uncouth, and macho
  • They are migrating at an immense rate, far too quick for societal or political institutions to adapt
  • They bring their own language with them, and unabashedly force American institutions to accommodate their language
  • They are either apathetic or outright disloyal to the US, and pose a risk to national security

It is tempting for those on the left to dismiss concerns about immigration as rooted merely in the basest racism, bigotry, and prejudice. I would agree that anyone who has seriously examined the empirical data here will find these concerns to be overblown — even on the rare occasion that there’s a grain of truth to them, the situation is nowhere near as bad as restrictionists typically make it out to be. And it is true that immigration restrictions, especially in the US, have traditionally been founded primarily, if not entirely, on racial prejudice. But these are not reasons to casually dismiss reasonable people’s concerns about immigration today.

Now, for those who really think that, based on that laundry list I laid out above, Hispanic immigration is a major problem in the US and one that needs to be stopped at all costs, I simply say: your concerns, valid as they may be, were anticipated a long time ago. No less an American than founding father Benjamin Franklin expressed precisely the same sentiments about a new cohort of swarthy immigrants threatening to overwhelm the United States:

Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation… Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it; and as Kolben says of the young Hottentots, that they are not esteemed men till they have shewn their manhood by beating their mothers, so these seem to think themselves not free, till they can feel their liberty in abusing and insulting their Teachers.

…now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties; Few of their children in the Country learn English…They begin of late to make all their Bonds and other legal Writings in their own Language, which (though I think it ought not to be) are allowed good in our Courts…there is continual need of Interpreters; and I suppose in a few years they will be also necessary in the Assembly, to tell one half of our Legislators what the other half say; In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Franklin went as far as to accuse these teeming masses of ignorant, uncouth immigrants of treason. When the colonies that would become the US fought the French, these immigrants refused to fight, and publicly argued that it would be better to surrender to the French instead:

…for when the English who were not Quakers, alarmed by the danger arising from the defenceless state of our Country entered unanimously into an Association within this Government and the lower Countries raised armed and Disciplined near 10,000 men, the Germans except a very few in proportion to their numbers refused to engage in it, giving out one among another, and even in print, that if they were quiet the French should they take the Country would not molest them; at the same time abusing the Philadelphians for fitting out Privateers against the Enemy; and representing the trouble hazard and Expence of defending the Province, as a greater inconvenience than any that might be expected from a change of Government.

Yes, the swarthy immigrants Franklin was talking about here were none other than the Germans. (While none of us would describe them as such today, he was quite explicit in his correspondence, describing peoples like the French, Russians, Swedes, and Germans as “swarthy” in complexion.) The early US faced a dramatic influx of a horde of immigrants, all from one particular country and cultural background. Even the most sympathetic immigration advocate would surely agree that at some point, “swamping” creates meaningful and dangerous risks to the established order and institutions of society.

But despite all the dangers he called out, Franklin saw no reason to demand mass deportations or even a closing of the borders. He simply wanted to encourage broader settlement of the new immigrants, greater funding for English-language schooling, and precautions against importation of criminals:

I am not for refusing entirely to admit them into our Colonies: all that seems to be necessary is, to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English Schools where they are now too thick settled, and take some care to prevent the practice lately fallen into by some of the Ship Owners, of sweeping the German Gaols to make up the number of their Passengers.

Maybe Franklin didn’t want to consider deportations or strict border controls because he didn’t believe in the feasibility of a massive militarised law enforcement apparatus that would be necessary to enforce these. We surely can feasibly have those things today (albeit at the cost of turning a leading democracy into a leading police state). But if we have learned anything from the German-American experience, why on earth would we want to?

In Ben Franklin’s day, Germans were swarthy, ignorant, unskilled, uncouth foreigners. They were alien to the people of the United States, and migrating in such vast numbers that they could have swamped and sunk the ship of state. But this clearly did not happen. Quite the contrary. Germans became truly American to a vast degree, despite continued immigration from Germany through the 19th century. If you keep ethnic descent in mind, then the Germans truly won World War II, as esteemed co-blogger Hansjoerg Walther has pointed out before:

Forget about General Eisenhower, and get used to Generalfeldmarschall Eisenhauer. Same for Chester Nimitz for the Navy (now: Generaladmiral Nimitz) and Carl Andrew Spaatz for the Air Force (now: Generalfeldmarschall Karl Andreas Spatz).

The Germans were as alien to the US Ben Franklin knew as Hispanics are alien to the US we know today. Actually, that’s wrong: the Germans were more alien. Hispanics have grown up in close proximity to the US, under the influence of its cultural and political leadership. They hail from democracies of some kind, and have a much better understanding of democracy than most any German growing up in the monarchic, aristocratic Germany of Ben Franklin’s day would have had. They have strong economic and cultural ties to the US. Many Hispanics are literally native Americans. Hispanics are far less likely to undermine the America we know today than the Germans were likely to undermine the America Ben Franklin knew in his day.

The Germans were truly alien to the US. But we no longer think of them that way. If I had told Ben Franklin that two centuries down the road, the largest single ethnic group in the country he helped found would be the Germans, he would have recoiled quite violently. But that is in fact the case: Germans are the largest single ethnic group in the modern United States, numbering almost 50 million. The Germans won World War II for the US. The Germans gave the US some of its greatest cultural contributions, including hot dogs and hamburgers. German-Americans include such American figures as Tom Cruise and Walt Disney.

Perhaps Ben Franklin would consider the modern US unimaginably impoverished by the supposed dilution of Anglo-Saxon culture and institutions. But the institutions that he established were preserved by generations of German immigrants. German-Americans gave their lives for these institutions in World War II. We don’t think of the hamburger as alien; it’s the quintessential piece of American cuisine.

If German immigration has taught us anything about swarthy, unskilled, uneducated, impolite, and politically apathetic immigrants, it’s that the United States will be just fine taking them in. The US admitted millions of Germans in an era of open borders when its institutions were unbelievably weak and newborn, and when those millions of Germans were coming in far greater numbers relative to the US population than anything we see today. The notion that US society and institutions are less equipped to cope with a similar influx under open borders conditions today than the US society and institutions of the Revolutionary Era is absolutely laughable.

We may be shocked to see what the America of 2063 or 2113 looks like. It may be even less familiar to us than the America of 2013 would be to Ben Franklin. But from all we’ve seen with German immigration, it seems quite clear that the waves of immigrants making the US their home today, Hispanic or otherwise, will turn out just fine.

And we can repeat this exercise ad infinitum. Other cohorts of immigrants have lessons to teach us too, after all. The Irish are the third-largest single ethnic group in the US today, numbering over 35 million, or over 10% of the population. And judging from the concerns of 19th century Americans facing a horde of Irish migrants, again, I think the US and its people will be just fine:

The “Health Tolls” of Immigration (And Why They Don’t Matter All that Much)

Post by Evan (occasional blogger for the site, joined June 2013). See:

Sabrina Tavernise’s  recent New York Times article on the “health tolls of immigration” doesn’t seem to have a particularly strong pro or anti-immigration agenda.  If anything it’s more along the lines of one of the “obesity epidemic” polemics which condemn western lifestyles for promoting chubbiness and poor health.  To get the best men’s health advice, click on the link here. Still, it does make some statements about the wellbeing of immigrant populations which it is worthwhile to address.

The main argument of the article is that, in their native countries, immigrants often develop eating habits that are more conducive to good health than the eating habits of the average American.  They typically develop these habits out of necessity rather than desire, they simply cannot afford the large helpings of calorically dense food that Americans regularly enjoy.  When they arrive in America, the article argues, they often lose these habits, and their children often do not develop them at all.  The main statistical support the article uses is a series of studies finding that immigrants have longer lifespans, and lower rates of certain health problems, than demographically similar American-born people. (The studies also mention a factor the article downplays, the simple fact that immigrants tend to self-select for health, since they usually need to by healthy enough to work in order to stay in the country, while their children may regress to the mean).

While any reduction in lifespan is obviously bad, it is not a particularly good argument against increased immigration, due to a number of factors.  The first, and most obvious one is that a small reduction in the quantity of one’s life may be easily made up for in the increase of one’s quality of life.  Even if immigration results in a greater amount of obesity-related health problems for the migrants and their descendants, the greater standard of living they will enjoy due to increased opportunities will likely more than make up for this.

To further put this in perspective, imagine an American politician proposed a program of economic contraction as a solution to the “obesity epidemic.”  Imagine this politician advocated a program where the government would actively destroy high-paying jobs and replace them with jobs so low-paying and menial that those who held them simply could not afford enough food to become obese.  Such a politician would be ejected from office by outraged voters.  This is because, as most people understand, a high standard of living is well worth a certain amounts of health problems.

It is also important to note that the studies compare the lifespans of immigrants to the lifespans of the native-born people of the same ethnicity.  A very different picture emerges when the lifespans of people in the immigrant’s originating country are introduced into the comparison (this is similar to a point that co-blogger Chris made in a previous blog post).  According to Singh and Miller (2004), one of the studies cited by the article, the average life expectancy (at birth) of a Hispanic immigrant from 1986-1994 was 77.1 years for men and 84.1 years for women.  The average life-expectancy of an American-born Hispanic was 72.8 years for men and 81.1 years for women.  This seems bad, until one considers that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) website, in 1990 the average lifespan for a Mexican man was 68 years, and the lifespan for a Mexican woman was 74 years.  The other Latin American countries were mostly similar, many even had shorter average lifespans than Mexico did.  In 1990 the only Latin American country that beat the USA in even one category was Costa Rica, Costa Rican men lived 75 years on average in 1990 (Costa Rican women, however, only lived 79).

The picture is similar in non-Hispanic countries.  Singh and Miller have American-born Chinese lifespans  from 1986-1994 at 81.6 years for men and 87.1 for women.  By contrast, the average lifespan for a Chinese citizen in 1990 was, according to WHO, 67 years for men and 71 years for women.  And then there is the mortality rate of many African countries, many of which have average lifespans well under 60, or even under 50.   US-born African Americans, who average 64 years for men and 75.5 years for women, seem like Galapagos tortoises by comparison.

The simple fact is, if the inhabitants of a third world country wants to maximize their lifespan, and the lifespan of any children they might have, emigration to the United States still seems like a great bet.  Even if their children don’t live quite as long as their parents, they will still live longer than the children the parents would have had in their native country.  And they will be spending those longer lives enjoying more wealth than their hypothetical siblings in their parent’s native lands would have.  Any increase in health problems the American lifestyle creates are far outweighed by its many benefits.

An offbeat argument for immigration restriction

I’m always on the lookout for new, innovative arguments against immigration. Restrictionists tend not to disappoint in coming up with creative arguments, but usually these are modest permutations and perturbations of existing arguments. Recently, however, I encountered an honestly creative, offbeat, and mind-blowing argument for immigration restriction. If I had to classify it, it would come under political externalities or under second-order harms. But neither classification does justice to the sheer creativity of the objection. The credit goes to none other than restrictionism’s most creative proponent, Steve Sailer.

Sailer makes the argument in this EconLog comment, which I’ll take the liberty of quoting in full (emphasis mine):

92% of elected Hispanic officials are Democrats. So, self-appointed Hispanic leaders tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. One reason is affirmative action. Most of these self-annointed leaders are affirmative action beneficiaries, and they have two self-interests: preserve ethnic preferences for Hispanics and increase the number of Hispanics in the country to make themselves appear more powerful.

The way out of this trap is for Republicans to eliminate all affirmative action (including disparate impact discrimination lawsuits) for Hispanics and to close the borders. After a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth, new Hispanic leaders will arise who actually represent the interests of Hispanic voters, not of themselves.

I vaguely recall reading a similar argument by Sailer elsewhere, but I can’t find any other link at the moment. Let me abstract Sailer’s framework. Some Hispanics immigrate to the United States. They increase the total number of Hispanics. Sailer is not concerned (in this comment) about whether these particular Hispanics agitate for affirmative action, or for any of the policies Sailer disfavors. He is not complaining about their actions, either in the economic and social realm or through the political channel. His complaint here is that their sheer existence in the United States makes it easy for self-appointed Hispanic representatives (who are often natives, not immigrants) to point to their numbers and make the case for certain policies (such as affirmative action) which Sailer considers harmful to the United States. And note that the people to whom they’re making the case are also usually natives, not immigrants. In other words, the existence of immigrants makes it easier for some natives to convince some other natives of policies that Sailer considers harmful to the United States. This, according to Sailer, is sufficient justification “to close the borders” as Sailer puts it.

Frankly, Sailer’s argument is a trump card, and there really isn’t much I can say in response. If people’s mere existence inside of a border, rather than what they do or don’t do, is sufficient grounds for closing a border, then it’s time for open borders advocates to pack up. Restrictionists win hands down, just as they do when they use pure racialist arguments.