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Four decades of evidence finds no link between immigration and increased crime

February 10, 2017

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Political discussions about immigrants often include the claim that there is a relationship between immigration patterns and increased crime. However, results of a University at Buffalo-led study find no links between the two. In fact, immigration actually appears to be linked to reductions in some types of crimes, according to the findings.

"Our research shows strong and stable evidence that, on average, across U.S. metropolitan areas crime and immigration are not linked," said Robert Adelman, an associate professor of sociology at UB and the paper's lead author. "The results show that immigration does not increase assaults and, in fact, robberies, burglaries, larceny, and murder are lower in places where immigration levels are higher.

"The results are very clear."

Adelman's study with Lesley Williams Reid, University of Alabama; Gail Markle, Kennesaw State University; Charles Jaret, Georgia State University; and Saskia Weiss, an independent scholar, is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice.

"Facts are critical in the current political environment," said Adelman. "The empirical evidence in this study and other related research shows little support for the notion that more immigrants lead to more crime."

Previous research, based on arrest and offense data, has shown that, overall, foreign-born individuals are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, according to Adelman.

For the current study, the authors stepped back from the study of individual immigrants and instead explored whether larger scale immigration patterns in communities could be tied to increases in crime due to changes in cities, such as fewer economic opportunities or the claim that immigrants displace domestic workers from jobs.

The authors drew a sample of 200 metropolitan areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and used census data and uniform crime reporting data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a 40-year period from 1970 to 2010.

"This is a study across time and across place and the evidence is clear," said Adelman. "We are not claiming that immigrants are never involved in crime. What we are explaining is that communities experiencing demographic change driven by immigration patterns do not experience significant increases in any of the kinds of crime we examined. And in many cases, crime was either stable or actually declined in communities that incorporated many immigrants."

Adelman says the relationship between immigration and crime is complex and more research needs to be done, but this research supports other scholarly conclusions that immigrants, on the whole, have a positive effect on American social and economic life.

"It's important to base our public policies on facts and evidence rather than ideologies and baseless claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without any facts to back them up," said Adelman.
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University at Buffalo

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