The debate in Washington circulates around how to deal with undocumented immigrants and stokes fears of criminals entering from other countries, but both new and old studies suggest that immigration actually tends to make neighborhoods safer.
The logic is straightforward: the decision to move to another country is usually an economic one, and it is a decision that is not taken likely. First generation immigrants want to find economic success in their new homes. They made the decision to root up their own lives and the lives of their families, and they want to see something good come as the result.
“Police statistics show that Sunset Park is much safer than it was 20 years ago,” NPR reports. “Homicides are down more than 90 percent. Crime rates have dropped all over New York since 1990 — but especially in neighborhoods that have high immigration.”
The same trend is noticeable all over the country. Cities with high immigration, such as Los Angelos and Houston, have significantly lower crime rates than they had two decades ago.
“You don’t migrate to the U.S. on a whim. It takes planning,” Robert Sampson, a researcher at Harvard University, told NPR. “And for the most part, it is driven by economic motivation. People want a better life. They’re seeking to get ahead. And those are the very factors that tend to be associated with lower crime.”
An older study observes the same trend. Three years ago a sociology professor at the University of Colorado studied FBI and Census data from the 90s and shared his results with The Wall Street Journal.
“The cities that experience the greatest growth in immigration were the same one that were experiencing the greatest declines in violent crime,” Wadsworth said. “While I don’t think I or anyone else will argue that immigration can explain the bulk of the crime drop, it seems like this is an important piece of the puzzle.”
Wadsworth speculated that immigrants live in homogeneous enclaves that offer a degree of social cohesion that would lower crime rates. He also hypothesized that those driven to immigrate may be those are the fittest and least likely to commit crimes.
The tone of the current immigration debate is also nothing new.
“From the late 1800s to the present, the association between immigration and crime has been a center point of anti-immigrant discourse and public policy,” Wadsworth wrote in his research. “Although there has been scant empirical research to support such claims, they have persisted with little debate.”
There is current evidence that violent crime is even lower along the US border with Mexico than public perception would suggest.
“In Texas, homicides are actually a little lower in border counties than they are in the rest of the state,” Ramiro Martinez, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, told NPR. “Not only in Texas, but also in New Mexico, and Arizona, in California, more immigrants means less crime.”
Struggling American cities stand to gain from increased immigration into their neighborhoods and the safer atmosphere that, possibly, comes along.