Immigration has been catapulted back into the national political discussion in recent weeks, thanks to the comments of a bloviating celebrity businessman who is desperately seeking relevance.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said last month. “And some, I assume, are good people.”
While some justifiably cringed at the notion, immigration restrictionists have praised the comments, especially after the tragic death of Kate Steinle, who was murdered by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a rabidly anti-immigration group, declared, in the wake of Steinle’s murder, that the celebrity’s “widely mocked warnings of this very danger have been vindicated.”
Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, who, in 2010 signed the toughest anti-immigration law in country, said the celebrity “is kind of telling it like it really, truly is.”
“I think that the people of Arizona realize that we picked up the tab for the majority of the violence that comes across our border in regards to the drug cartels, the smugglers, the drug houses,” Brewer said. “It has been horrendous.”
But is it true that immigrants bring crime to the United States? The answer may surprise you. Writing at Reason in July 2009, Radley Balko noted that despite its close proximity to Ciudad Juarez, which has been ravaged by Mexican drug cartels, El Paso, Texas “is among of the safest big cities in America.”
“There were just 18 murders in El Paso [in 2008], in a city of 736,000 people. To compare, Baltimore, with 637,000 residents, had 234 killings,” Balko explained. “In fact, since the beginning of 2008, there were nearly as many El Pasoans murdered while visiting Juarez (20) than there were murdered in their home town (23).”
“Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that, in fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be behind bars than are the native-born. This is true for the nation as a whole, as well as for cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami, and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border such as San Diego and El Paso,” he added.
On Tuesday, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy expert at the Cato Institute, further countered the argument that more immigrants mean more crime in the United States.
“Both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions. There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality,” Nowrasteh wrote. “One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law.”
“Another explanation is that immigrants self-select for those willing to work rather than those willing to commit crimes,” he added. “According to this “healthy immigrant thesis,” motivated and ambitious foreigners are more likely to immigrate and those folks are less likely to be criminals.”
None of this touches on the economic benefits of immigration or the dishonorable intentions of anti-immigration groups that drive the fear mongering. Those are topics, perhaps, for another day. But the fears about crime committed by immigrants are completely and utterly unfounded.