The Truth of Crime and Immigration

Immigrants have been in the news a lot recently—a number of ICE arrests throughout N.C., President Trump referencing criminal behavior in immigrants in his State of the Union Speech...but how many immigrants are really criminals? And what kinds of crimes do they commit? Unfortunately, the facts aren’t entirely clear.


There’s no one database explaining all the crimes immigrants have committed, and what little data there is is hard to come by in the U.S. and even harder outside of it. However, there is a lot of data to indicate that the stereotype of criminal immigrants is just that—a stereotype. For starters, it’s pretty difficult for criminals (even those convicted of minor offenses) to come to the U.S. Anyone who has committed a serious crime cannot obtain refugee status. And if someone applying for a green card has a criminal record, they can be denied for anything on that record, even a minor traffic violation. But, assuming some morally faulty immigrants do enter our country, their choices in breaking the law aren’t always so clear cut. Immigration laws are different from state to state. The disparity in state laws surrounding immigrants makes it difficult to compile the data and find a firm rate of crime among immigrants. For example, in Arizona, police are allowed to stop and ask anyone their immigration status if they suspect the person is not in the country legally, but this practice is not authorized in North Carolina. This kind of law primarily focuses on stopping one type of nonviolent crime: illegal immigration. Because undocumented immigration is a crime in itself, stop-and-frisk laws inflate the crime rate in those states that have them. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, about 34% of criminal aliens removed from from the U.S. in 2015 were only criminals because of their immigration status. The third largest group of criminal aliens, 13.5%, were removed from the U.S. that year because they were convicted of traffic violations.


However, I am more concerned with the overall relationship between immigration and crime, and one year’s worth of data doesn’t prove much. According to public data from the Department of Justice and private data sourced from Pew Research Center, the vast majority of aliens removed from the U.S. between 2006-2016 were not criminals. The rate of unauthorized immigration in the U.S. was low in the early 2000s, spiked to 12.2 million in 2007, and has since stabilized. As of 2016, there were about 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. In 1990 there were approximately 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., and the aggravated assault rate was 424.1 per 100,000 people. In 2007, when unauthorized immigration was the highest at 12.2 million, the aggravated assault rate dropped to 287.2. In 2016, with 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the aggravated assault rate dropped further to 248.3, indicating no direct correlation between the flow of unauthorized immigration and aggravated assault. Crime data from the Center for Disease Control indicates a similar pattern in the rates of sexual assault and homicide.


I write all of this because of the popular narrative that immigrants are criminals and are to be feared. I’ve heard it on the news, I’ve heard it from politicians, I’ve even heard it from fellow Meredith students. But that’s simply not the story the data tells. The criminalization of immigrants by the government seems to contribute more to the increased crime rate than any tangible trends in violent crime. The data may not be as thorough as we want it to be, but it’s clear enough—the presence of immigrants does not lead to an increase in violent crime. So it’s time we stop treating them like criminals.


By Cro Owens, Social Media Manager

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