A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue, attempts to overturn a century’s worth of research which has demonstrated repeatedly that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit violent crimes or end up behind bars. The CIS report focuses much of its attention on questioning the accuracy of the 2000 Census data used in two particular studies, one from the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) and another from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)—both of which dispel the myth of immigrant criminality. However, CIS ignores not only the many other sources of data in these two studies, but also the myriad studies from other researchers which have reached the same conclusion.

The real agenda behind the CIS report seems to be the promotion of the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs, in which local law-enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) collaborate for the ostensible purpose of identifying and capturing “criminal aliens.” However, both programs actually end up snaring many individuals who are neither criminals nor immigrants. CIS relies heavily on data generated by these programs, even though this data is of dubious quality and is not representative of the United States as a whole. For instance, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified in March 2009 that the 287(g) program is poorly managed and yields inconsistent data. Secure Communities is an even smaller program with a similarly questionable data and reporting system.

Putting aside the technical and highly debatable claims CIS makes about the accuracy of 2000 Census data, the fact remains that the evidence demonstrating relatively low rates of criminality and incarceration among immigrants comes from far more sources than just the decennial census. It also comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) survey, the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS), the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), and in-depth community-based studies in cities such as El Paso, Chicago, San Diego, and Miami.

Moreover, it is not simply the IPC and PPIC which have drawn upon these many sources of data in concluding that immigration is not associated with higher rates of crime or imprisonment. Consider Robert J. Sampson, Chair of the Sociology Department at Harvard University, who writes that “immigration—even if illegal—is associated with lower crime rates in most disadvantaged urban neighborhoods.” Or Rubén G. Rumbaut, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who observes in a report from the Police Foundation that “both contemporary and historical studies, including official crime statistics and victimization surveys since the early 1990s, data from the last three decennial censuses, national and regional surveys in areas of immigrant concentration, and investigations carried out by major government commissions over the past century, have shown instead that immigration is associated with lower crime rates and lower incarceration rates.”

In other words, numerous researchers drawing upon numerous sources of data have reached the same conclusion that the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform reached in its 1984 report—which also happens to be the conclusion reached by the Industrial Commission of 1901, the Dillingham Immigration Commission of 1911, and the Wickersham National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement of 1931: that immigration is not associated with higher crime.

Photo by tonyamaker.