Report Says Immigrants Responsible For Drop In Crime

Proponents of SB 1070 (including many who comment on this blog), say that Arizona’s new law criminalizing undocumented immigrants is a necessary defense to combat crime.

But with the exception of the crime of crossing the border without a visa, a new report in June 2010’s Social Science Quarterly shows that immigration in cities is partially responsible for a drop in crime, not a rise.

The report, Is Immigration Responsible for the Crime Drop? An Assessment of the Influence of Immigration on Changes in Violent Crime Between 1990 and 2000, written by Tim Wadsworth of the University of Colorado at Boulder, analyzes immigration patterns collected by the U.S. Census Bureau as well as Uniform Crime Report data on homicide and robbery. The fact that violent crime has been decreasing dramatically over the past two decades (which coincides with a period of astronomical rise in immigration rates) is well documented, and has continued during the economic recession. What’s groundbreaking about Wadsworth’s research is that it shows for the first time that immigration played a role in that drop.

Meaning…immigrants make our cities safer.

A number of police chiefs agree. In a meeting with the U.S. Attorney General last week, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said “laws like this (SB 1070) will actually increase crime, not decrease crime.” Therefore, it’s not good use of resources. The chiefs said enforcement of SB 1070 would make it more difficult for them to go after violent offenders. Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris has repeatedly criticized the law, saying it will take his officers away from their core mission “to make our communities safe.”

Woah woah woah…what about Robert Krentz, the rancher who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant or a smuggler on the U.S.-Mexico border?

Wadsworth isn’t claiming that crime disappears altogether with an influx of immigrants. But the study shows Krentz was an exception to the rule. At a time of high immigration, violent crime is going down in Phoenix, El Paso, and other cities across the southwest.

So why would that be? As Christopher Dickey wrote in Newsweek last week,

“Robert J. Sampson, head of the sociology department at Harvard, has suggested that, among other things, immigrants move into neighborhoods abandoned by locals and help prevent them from turning into urban wastelands. They often have tighter family structures and mutual support networks, all of which actually serve to stabilize urban environments.”

But despite the evidence, SB 1070 supporters continue to hold onto the belief that the law will make them safer. At a rally of SB 1070 supporters in Phoenix on Saturday, speakers highlighted crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. If that’s not true, why do so many people in Arizona maintain that it is?

When it comes to the effects of immigration, some people’s fear of violence seems to be more of a reality than violence itself.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.