Does a Rise in Immigrants Correspond with an Increase in Crime?


US President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that any rise in undocumented immigration will lead to increased crime rates.

“It’s looking like [the Democrats] really want open borders, and they want really crime to pour in,” Mr Trump has said, labelling undocumented Mexican immigrants as “murderers” and “rapists”

The demonisation of immigrants appeals to those who wish to blame others for their own inadequacies, or for that which is their own responsibility, but does it have any factual basis?

This article outlines a wealth of research which suggests the opposite is true.

Rise in undocumented immigrants corresponds with a fall in crime

Between 1990 and 2014, the number of undocumented immigrants in the US more than tripled, from 3.5 million to 11.3 million.

Yet as criminologist Michael Light has noted, the soaring increase in such immigration has corresponded with a dramatic fall in violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. According to FBI annual reporting, the violent crime rate fell by a whopping 48% between 1993 and 2016.

A 2016 study replicated these findings across a random cross-section of American metropolitan cities. The research analysed census data from 1970 to 2010 for 200 metropolitan areas. It found that on average, the rates of murder, robbery, burglary and larceny fell as undocumented immigration increased.

Moreover, a 2010 study of US cities with a population of more than 50,000 found that the cities that received the most undocumented immigrants between 1990 to 2000 experienced the greatest drops in murder and robbery rates.

Falling non-violent crime rates

Research has also found that a rise in undocumented immigration does not correspond with a rise in non-violent crimes – including drug arrest or driving under the influence.

High immigrant versus low immigrant cities

Charle Kubrin and Graham Ousey conducted extensive research into whether the concentration of immigration affects crime rates.

Their study of crime rates found that between 1980 to 2000, US cities and neighborhoods with a greater concentration of immigrants had lower rates of crime and violence than those with lower concentrations of immigrant. The study goes to pains to ensure that all other variables are factored in to the findings.

The researches also conducted a meta-analysis of 50 available studies on the immigration-crime relationship. They concluded that, “Our analysis of the literature reveals that immigration has a weak crime-suppressing effect. In other words, more immigration equals less crime.”

Immigrant and non-immigrant crime rates

A study by the Cato Institute, an American public policy think-tank, found that in 2015, criminal conviction and arrest rates in Texas for undocumented immigrants were lower than those of native-born Americans for murder, sexual assault and larceny.

And a 2007 working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US which analysed the 1980, 1990 and 2000 census data, found that young men who were immigrants had lower incarceration rates than the US-born young men every single year.

In fact in 2000, the institutionalisation rate of immigrants was just one-fifth of US-born young men.

Houston is home to one of the largest undocumented immigrant populations in America. The state’s police chief, Art Acevedo, has been outspoken against the claim that crime is disproportionately committed by immigrants,

“There’s no wave of crime being committed by the immigrant community,” he asserts. “As a matter of fact, a lot of the violent crime that we’re dealing with is being committed by people that are born and raised right here in the United States.”

Propensity towards crime increases with time spent in the US

Researchers have found a clear correlation amongst criminological studies between the length of time an individual spends in the United States and their likelihood of committing crime.

All things being equal, first-generation immigrants are 45% less likely to commit a violent act than third-generation immigrants, while the second-generation is 22% less likely to commit violence than the third.

The studies overwhelmingly suggest that rather than increasing crime, immigration does exactly the opposite – despite what conservative politicians, tabloid newspapers and radio shock-jocks would have others believe.


Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a journalist and paralegal working on claims for institutional abuse. He has a passion for social justice and criminal law reform, and is a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Australia's leading team of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.