A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzing computerized criminal history data for nearly 2 million arrests in Texas, suggests that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than that of citizens. The study, headed by the university’s sociology professor Michael Light and co-authors Jingying He and Jason Robey, indicates that citizens are two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for felony drug crimes.
Similarly, the study shows that citizens are four times more likely to be arrested for crimes involving property. The study has been remarked upon as important by criminologists, due in part to the very stark conclusion the authors arrive at. In the study, they conclude that the evidence shows that citizens aren’t just more likely to commit crimes, but they are also more likely to be arrested for them.
Professor Light issued a statement about the study, noting that the findings were similar to other reports he’d been involved with. However, those reports didn’t have access to individuals’ immigration status in criminal reports. Instead, the studies used a combination of data about immigration rates and data about crime rates and cross-referenced them.
“It’s like asking if crime rates rise when unemployment goes up. That’s not the same as asking if unemployed people commit more crimes,” Light noted of the study. “Those are related questions, but not the same question.”
The reason Texas maintains records about arrested peoples’ immigration status is due to a law in the state called the Secure Communities Program. The program is intended to identify criminals who are undocumented in order to deport them before they can commit more crimes. Ironically, by recording this information, the program instead illuminated that citizens are more likely to commit crimes than immigrants.
These numbers are especially notable because immigrants are far more likely to encounter law enforcement than citizens are. Dr. Light makes note of this in the study, and highlights two independent studies that show that the Secure Communities Program has had no noticeable impact on crime rates. This is in spite of the program leading to the deportation of over 200,000 immigrants over its first four years.
Dr. Light speculates that the reason for the lower crime rate among immigrants can be chalked up to two things: one, undocumented immigrants are likely trying very hard to avoid legal confrontations that could lead to their deportation. Two, people who move to the US improperly are often fleeing areas that are high in crime. For instance, in Mexico, there are ample opportunities to become involved in criminal activity.
Dr. Light speculates that, by moving to the US, many immigrants and self-selecting an attempt to engage in economic enrichment, rather than choosing to engage in criminal activity. As such, the kinds of people who leave regions like Mexico and Venezuela for the US tend to not have many goals that are in line with committing crimes.