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Immigrants are less likely to be criminals than native-born citizens, study says

The criminal myth about about immigration was being made 100 years ago, and it was as wrong then as it is now.

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In a report released earlier this month, the American Immigration Council (AIC) found that decades of immigration have occurred parallel to decreases in violent crime across the U.S. Using 30 years of data from 1980 to 2010, researchers not only defend the mighty claim in the headline above, but also offer evidence that, to quote sociologist Robert J. Sampson, “cities of concentrated immigration are some of the safest places around.” 

To the main point, the report reads:

“As the number of immigrants in the United States has risen in recent years, crime rates have fallen. Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder.”

Of course, correlation does not equal causation in this case. While there are more correlative stats to confirm the thesis — property crime rates fell 41 percent during this same period — one of the more compelling points is historical in nature. AIC researchers point to a sense of “déjà vu”:

“In the first three decades of the 20th century, during the last era of large-scale immigration, three government commissions studied the relationship between immigrants and crime and came to the same conclusion as contemporary researchers,” the report adds.

Even going back a century, researchers found “no satisfactory evidence has yet been produced to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime disproportionate to the increase in adult population.

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The full report also highlights the effects of incarceration in immigrant communities, and includes a thorough analysis of how “criminalizing” of immigration in the U.S. — from worksite immigration raids to the misleading language in deportation statistics.

Why does it matter?

Immigration reform has been a hot button issue throughout the Obama administration. But it's scalding right now. Two weeks ago, 32-year-old Katherine Steinle was gunned down on an evening stroll along San Francisco’s Embarcadero pier. After federal authorities charged Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate with the murder — a Mexican national who had already been deported five times from the U.S. — the immigration debate exploded once again on local and national stages. It has become a punching bag in the U.S. presidential race, and has even made its way into Philadelphia's politisphere.

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