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Are Undocumented Immigrants Less Likely to Commit Crimes than Citizens?

Are Undocumented Immigrants Less Likely to Commit Crimes than Citizens

Even though the last presidential administration routinely claimed that undocumented immigrants committed the highest number of crimes in the United States, one recent study found the opposite to be true.

Sociology researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study that showed that undocumented immigrants are actually far less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens.

How the Study was Conducted

In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers analyzed criminal history data of almost two million arrests in Texas between 2012 and 2018. Texas keeps stringent records on crime rates owing, in part, to the federal government’s Secure Communities program, which requires sharing of immigration crime data.

Using Texas’ electronic database, researchers calculated the felony crime rates of U.S.-born citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. They also analyzed undocumented immigrants’ contribution to felonies in the state over the six years.

To account for potential errors in estimating the population of undocumented immigrants, the researchers calculated how inaccurate their population estimates would have to be to change findings.

They concluded that the undocumented population in Texas would have to be half as large as they had estimated to match the violent crime rates of U.S.-born citizens. This conclusion clearly showed that data and population nuances did not affect findings.

Major Findings

This groundbreaking study found that, during the study period, in Texas:

  • Crime rates among undocumented immigrants were a fraction of those of U.S.-born citizens, who were:
    • Twice as likely to be arrested for violent felonies.
    • Two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for felony drug crimes.
    • Over four times more likely to be arrested for felony property crimes.
  • Crimes rates among undocumented immigrants were also lower than those of legal immigrants in all categories.
  • Legal immigrant crimes were lower than crimes committed by U.S.-born citizens, as well.
  • The rates of arrests of undocumented immigrants did not increase with time and actually decreased over time for property, drug, and traffic crimes.

This study was the first to correlate crime with a specific population directly.

Other studies have drawn similar conclusions to this one, even if less direct. Researchers of those studies were limited to comparing crime rate trends with immigration trends because most states do not correlate crimes to immigration status. Therefore, they could not match specific crimes to specific populations. Even so, this more general research shows that areas with many immigrants and high immigration surges do not have higher crime rates than other areas.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers even took their findings another step. They repeated their analysis with subtle data shifts. They used convictions instead of arrests, misdemeanors in addition to felonies, and different size estimates of undocumented immigrant populations. The significantly lower crimes rates for undocumented immigrants remained even with the data changes.

Why Do Undocumented Immigrants Commit Fewer Crimes?

Although this study did not analyze why undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes, other studies and findings may explain why:

  • First generation: Undocumented immigrants are almost always first-generation immigrants. They have an incentive to avoid criminal behavior.
  • Deportation: Legal trouble, no matter how minor or serious, will get most undocumented immigrants deported.
  • Motivation: Illegal immigration into the United States is challenging, physically, emotionally, and financially. Those who make the journey generally have strong reasons, such as employment and ambition. These attributes do not usually correlate with crime.
  • A better life: Immigrants and their families often come to the United States seeking the American dream. They want their families to be safe from harm and religious or racial persecution. They want their children to have a better opportunity for education and quality of life. They want a job and a roof over their head. Crime of any type will squash their hopes and dreams in an instant.

What Does This Study Mean for Immigration Laws?

While this study most likely will not compel sweeping changes to immigration policies, it is sure to open some eyes and change some minds. In its first seven months, the Biden administration has already rolled back some policies enacted under the Trump administration, including the following:

  • A 2018 mandate that allowed the S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to automatically deny immigration applications that lacked information or contained honest mistakes. Per previous policy, applicants were first given a courtesy warning to correct errors or supply additional information. Under President Biden, the courtesy warning has been reinstated.
  • A 2019 presidential order broadened the definition of public charge. Previously, a public charge was an immigrant considered likely to need cash benefits if allowed to enter the United States. Trump broadened the definition to include immigrants who would likely become dependent on Medicaid, supplemental nutrition, and federal housing assistance. It also added financial resources, age, health, education, and employment history as assessment criteria. President Biden threw out the broadened public charge definition in March 2021.
  • In February 2021, President Biden lifted the freeze on green cards enacted in April 2020, allowing more people to apply or be sponsored for green cards.
  • In June 2021, President Biden authorized USCIS to increase the amount of time an applicant waiting for an adjustment of status is allowed to work in the United States to two years from the previous one year.

These and other recent government immigration policy changes are highly beneficial for those seeking green cards or visas to enter the United States. Between new studies that may lead to improved policies and current presidential administration changes, immigration lawyers are a great place to start with issues or questions.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC, Assist Those Pursuing the American Dream

The Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help with any immigration-related need or issue. Our lawyers understand the complexities of U.S. immigration and employment laws. We stay current with the rapid pace of changes and are eager to help you or a family member. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.

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