2.26.2007

The Myth of Immigrant Criminality

Ruben G. Rumbaut and Walter A. Ewing have written a new Immigration Policy Center report entitled "The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates among Native and Foreign-Born Men."

Here is an abstract:

Because many immigrants to the United States, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, are young men who arrive with very low levels of formal education, popular stereotypes tend to associate them with higher rates of crime and incarceration.

The fact that many of these immigrants enter the country through unauthorized channels or overstay their visas often is framed as an assault against the rule of law, thereby reinforcing the impression that immigration and criminality are linked.

This association has flourished in a post-9/11 climate of fear and ignorance where terrorism and undocumented immigration often are mentioned in the same breath.

However, data from the census and other sources show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.

The problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration.