How We’re Doing: the Real Numbers on Immigrants and Crime

You’ve probably heard the right-wing canard that illegal immigrants cause higher crime rates. And if you’re like the majority of the public, you believe it, as the pie chart (based on a 2000 General Social Survey) shows.

So hurray for Tim Wadsworth of the University of Colorado at Boulder for publishing new research that debunks this claim. Looking at homicide and robbery rates in 458 cities between 1990 and 2000, he concludes:

The size of the new immigrant population was not a significant predictor of homicide [or robbery] rates.

Undocumented immigrants are said to be more law-abiding for fear of getting harsher punishments than U.S. citizens, and incarceration rates seem to agree.

Wadsworth finds many alternate variables that do play crucial roles in determining crime rates: total population size, economic disadvantages, percent of young men, race dissimilarities and percent of youth educated, among others.

But there’s another, more important way to examine immigration and crime. Undocumented immigrants have nowhere to turn when they are victims of crime, and this especially affects women’s safety. Fear of deportation can deter women immigrants from reporting sexual and domestic abuse. Immigrants are also subjected to abuse from law enforcement under programs such as the 287(g) program, which allows state and local officers to perform immigration law enforcement duties. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpiao is a prime example of such abuse. (For more on Arpiao’s brutal mentality, see “America’s Toughest Sheriff” by Catherine A. Traywick in the current issue of Ms.)

Hopefully Wadsworth’s new research will enter the public discourse and  help initiate demands for fair policies to protect immigrant’s rights.


I am in my final year of undergrad at Michigan State University studying Communication. I volunteer with our campus Sexual Assault Program (SACI), which provides medical and judicial advocacy for the greater Lansing area. I am currently a summer Research Intern for Ms. Magazine, and a raving fan of equality.