No Link Between Immigrants and Crime

A joint study by three universities found no link between an increase in immigrants and an increase in crime. Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images
A joint study by three universities found no link between an increase in immigrants and an increase in crime. Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Immigrants and crime. If you believe some, including President Donald Trump whose executive order limiting immigrant travel from seven predominately Muslim countries has been blocked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the two go hand in hand. The more immigrants that enter the United States, they claim, the more crime there is. However, a new 40-year study from the University of Buffalo found that's not the case. In fact, the study concludes that increased immigration actually reduces many types of criminal activity.

"As immigration increases, crime decreases," says Robert Adelman, associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo. "There can be real benefits of having immigrants move to a community."


Adelman co-authored the study with several others from the University of Alabama, Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University. Their findings were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice.

The authors found little support for the "enduring proposition" that an increase in immigration is associated with an increase in crime. Specifically, their research shows that people born in foreign countries who immigrate to the United States are less likely to commit crimes than those born in the U.S.

Adelman and his colleagues studied 200 metropolitan areas. They compared population data and crime statistics from 1970 to 2010 — a 40-year span. They found that increased immigration reduced the number of robberies, murders and property crimes. "This is strong and stable evidence that, at the macro-level, immigration does not cause crime to increase in U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even help reduce it," the authors concluded. "Our results are clear and overarching that immigration does not lead to increases in crime in American metropolitan areas."

They also determined that, despite continuing arguments that allege a causal relationship between immigration and crime, data showed immigrants were less likely to be offenders than native-born Americans.

The report comes at a time of severe polarization in the United States about the status of immigrants. Politicians like former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) support Trump's immigration policy and plan to build a border wall with Mexico.

"The interpretation of our results gives us pause when considering the current cultural ethos in the United States," the authors wrote. "The variety of legislation at the state level aimed at immigrants, legal or not, is underscored by popular sentiments about how current immigration is detrimental to the U.S. economically and socially. But at least when it comes to crime — and in fact, on many other counts addressed in the literature — there is no evidence at a metropolitan level of these severe impacts."

Adelman says the study is timely and corroborates similar research over the past two decades, as well as earlier studies. Researchers, however, began this work long before the 2016 presidential campaign when issues of crime and immigration took center stage in says. 

Adelman notes there are many reasons why immigrants commit far fewer crimes than native-born Americans. "Immigrants bring a lot of benefits to a community," he says, including revitalizing depressed areas and creating jobs. In fact, the report says that "revitalization is most likely the dominant mechanism linking immigration to crime in U.S. metropolitan areas." Adelman says he believes immigrants, overall, have a positive impact on the social and economic life in the United States.

"There are two things our research shows," he says. "The first is that there can be real benefits of having immigrants move to a community. The second, in my opinion, is that it's important to have public policy based on sound data and facts as opposed to ideology."