Latino immigrants and crime

by on February 20, 2010 at 6:54 am in Data Source, Law | Permalink

The connection between Latino immigration and criminal behavior is much overstated.  Here is an excellent article, full of good information.  Excerpt:

The overall age-adjusted national imprisonment rates are shown in Chart 1. Hispanic incarceration rates are now between 13 and 31 percent above the white average, depending upon which age range we choose for normalization purposes.

And this:

Another important point to emphasize is the wide disparity in white incarceration rates throughout the country, even when adjusted relative to the number of whites in high-crime age ranges. For example, age-adjusted imprisonment rates for whites in large Southern states such as Florida, Texas, and Georgia may be 200 percent or even 300 percent higher than those for whites in large Northeastern or Midwestern states such as New York, New Jersey, or Illinois, as shown in Chart 5. Although it is impossible to disentangle completely how much of this gap may be due to higher criminality and how much due to harsher judicial systems, it seems likely that both play important roles. So even if the age-adjusted Hispanic incarceration rate is somewhat above the white rate–perhaps 15 percent higher on average–it still falls close to the center of the overall white distribution.

Don't forget this:

Nearly all of the most heavily Latino cities have low or even extremely low crime rates, and virtually none have rates much above the national average. Eighty percent Latino El Paso has the lowest homicide and robbery rates of any major city in the continental United States. This is not what we would expect to find if Hispanics had crime rates far higher than whites. Individual cities may certainly have anomalously low crime rates for a variety of reasons, but the overall trend of crime rates compared to ethnicity seems unmistakable.

And this:

if we restrict our analysis to major cities of half a million people or more and compare the average crime rates for the five most heavily Hispanic cities–Albuquerque, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and El Paso–to the those of the five whitest–Oklahoma City, Columbus, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Portland. This time, the more Hispanic cities are the ones with the lower crime rates–10 percent below the white cities in homicide and 15 percent lower in violent crime. A particularly remarkable result is that gigantic Los Angeles–50 percent Hispanic and frequently perceived as a dangerous urban hellhole–has violent crime rates close to those of Portland, Oregon, the whitest major city in the nation at 74 percent.

And finally:

Los Angeles today ranks as America’s least white European large city. Half of the population is Hispanic, and many of these are impoverished illegal immigrants and their families. Yet all crime rates have been falling steadily over the last two decades, with homicide dropping a further 18 percent just last year. As Chart 14 illustrates, most major crime categories are now back down to where they were in the early 1960s, when the population really did look very much like the actors appearing in “Dragnet” and “Leave It to Beaver.” And indeed, violent crime is now roughly the same as for Portland, Oregon, America’s whitest major city.

There is a lot more which I did not pass along, so read the whole thing.  I thank The Browser and Ezra Klein for the pointers.

Doc Merlin February 20, 2010 at 8:29 am

The latinos that leave latin America do so to make a better life for themselves and their children. It makes perfect sense that we should have lower crime rates.

Comparing El Paso and Ciudad Juarez presents an interesting contrast. Both have very high % hispanic population, but Juarez has orders of magnitude higher murder rate.

Paul February 20, 2010 at 9:09 am

Sorry to burst your bubble but I went to an LA area high school right at the time when illegal immigrants flooded into the area and saw the transformation. By my senior year our school was 50-60% Hispanic. Ive recently read an LA Times piece that has my old high school now at 95%(!!) Hispanic.

This has nothing to do with ethnicity but with sheer numbers and poverty – but what I witnessed was a largely hostile ethnocentric mass of students and violence and gangs skyrocket. The few years before I attended there was virtually none of that, and we had bussing, and a few years after I graduated there was huge race riot (between blacks and hispanics) that shut down the school and made all the local news (I can link the youtube videos). So the study you are citing – just from personal experience – its a JOKE.

Again, this has nothing to do with ethnicity or race. And in fact most of the American students were comprised of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants and whites form out of state. We were typical California liberals and never had much resentment about this massive influx. It is only in retrospect that I think how socially unhealthy all of this was. But replace Mexican with any country (Sweden, Nigeria, whatever) and the same social deterioration would have come into play. This is not an anti-hispanic screed.

It is very bad social policy to allow the massive immigration (legal or illegal) of one nationality. It promotes tension along ethnic lines, reduces integration while continuing ethnic based poverty (when you’re illegal there isn’t much room to move up).

We can all espouse how liberal and open we are but at some point we have to have some hard line rules. We, as a society, need to decide how many people we allow in and why, scientifically – whether that number is 1 or 1 billion. To just say “OK let them all in, we were all once immigrants” is a nice slogan and will make you feel very good about yourself but its also the coward’s way out. We cannot solve the social and economic problems of our friend’s to the south at the expense of current residents. Because that is what is happening. My education was drastically effected by all of this and unless you went through it I suggest you think a little deeper.

Finally, what I think bothered me the most by all of it and was a by-product of the sheer numbers of the same nationality crossing over, was the ethnocentric attitude. For many hispanic organizations and hispanics I spoke with it was all about bringing over other Mexicans, other Nicaraguans, etc. But what about all the destitute in Thailand? China? Name a hundred other countries…..I never heard from them about any other nationality that should be allowed to come whenever they wanted to. It was a very un-American attitude, to say the least.

Ralph February 20, 2010 at 9:51 am

Thank you for this piece. I had a rather contentious argument on my own blog with the right wing, beck/Hannity folks over this issue. They used anecdotes. I cited much of the evidence in the Unz article, gleaned form other sources. The evidence just does not support the Idea that Hispanics are more crime prone.

“I’m a little confused as to how any of this changes the fact that “Hispanic incarceration rates are now between 13 and 31 percent above the white average.” That’s a higher rate no matter how you cut it. Also aren’t there crimes that result in deportation rather than incarceration?”

This is well answered in the piece Tyler cites. It helps if you have taken a few stats courses, but it is still not difficult to read. Many of those in prison are there for immigration infractions. Next, most immigrants are young males. Most crimes are committed by young males. This skews the population and should be accounted for in comparisons. Lastly, the evidence when you look at heavily Hispanic cities vs heavily white cities is pretty strong. The Hispanic cities tend to have lower crime rates. While it is difficult to absolutely rule out under reporting, homicides have a history of about 100% reporting. The homicide rates track pretty closely with the other crime rates.

Put together, if crime rates are higher among Hispanics, there is no proof of its existence.

k February 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

An what about the hate crimes against afroamericans in LA. In latiamerican slumps crime tend to be low they wont attack their neighbors

matt wilbert February 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

Another factor might be that poor people are incarcerated more often than less-poor people for the same crime; they can’t make bail, and then tend to be sentenced to jail rather than community service. The recent NPR series on the politics of bail was very interesting on this point.

However, although we know Hispanics as a groups are poorer than average, I don’t know that Hispanic criminals are poorer than other criminals, so this may not be important.

jizay February 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

“I would think that an econ blog would focus on opportunity cost above all.”

You would think that, but Tyler — who I will say is a genius that I admire — cannot bring himself to think clearly on the issues of immigration, Islamic violence, and IQ. Every single time.

Blackadder February 20, 2010 at 10:46 am

The most surprising thing about this story is that it was published in the American Conservative, Pat Buchanan’s old rag.

Ralph February 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

“Everyone should agree that you can’t trust incarceration rates. That is a measure of government, not individuals. Reporting crime also indicates government policy and corruption.”

True. So, do the higher rates in the Northeast reflect real or perceived problems? Are you just less likely to get a fair trial? Who knows. The point to be taken here, IMHO, is that the claims made that Hispanics are 6 or 7 times more likely to be criminals are wrong. Crime rates for Hispanics, especially violent crime, are not much different than the rest of the population.

Steve

Andrew February 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

Then there is this little bit:

“We must bear in mind that most Hispanics are still of very recent immigrant origins and thus are considerably poorer than the average American. There actually does exist a connection between poverty and crime, even if liberals make such a claim, and since today’s Hispanic population has roughly the same crime rate as far more affluent whites, there is every reason to expect that this crime rate will drop further as Hispanics continue to move up the economic ladder. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Douglas Besharov pointed out in an important but insufficiently noticed October 2007 New York Times column, the last decade or two have seen an extremely rapid economic advance for most of America’s Hispanic population. 10 This rise may be connected with the simultaneous and unexpectedly rapid drop in urban crime rates throughout the country.”

So, what people may be measuring is poverty and a secular drop in crime. That racial statistics don’t jump out is something, but may not be everything.

Zephyrus February 20, 2010 at 11:41 am

Interestingly, the author did not control for gender, which is probably the demographic variable, next to age, that stands out most in the Hispanic population and means the most for crime rates.

John Thacker February 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

The latinos that leave latin America do so to make a better life for themselves and their children. It makes perfect sense that we should have lower crime rates.

OTOH, Latino immigrants are overwhelmingly single young males, who have higher crime rates. So one would expect higher crime rates in unadjusted figures.

However, do realize that even if the adjusted crime rate is the same or lower, someone could still oppose immigration for reasons of crime. “Even if these single young men don’t have particularly high crime rates, that doesn’t mean that I want a bunch of extra single young men. You can’t adjust away the actual crime.”

a good number of Hispanics are tolerant of various forms of illegal activity. While many are opposed to illegal imm., many support it. That’s the type of mindset that’s going to have a long-term impact on the U.S.

They’re tolerant of illegal immigration for the same reason that most Americans are tolerant of speeding on the highway. The latter is, of course, a mindset that’s been going on for a long time. People are tolerant for the breaking of unjust laws. LoneWacko here right that that can have a long-term impact on the U.S. because people may lose trust for just laws. The correct solution in my mind is to repeal unjust and unnecessary laws.

ThomasL February 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Do incarceration rates control for “catch and release”?

It isn’t unheard of in my city for illegal immigrants to be released many times on felonious as well as traffic and other minor disturbance violations.

In one incident recently an illegal immigrant, who had been picked up multiple times previously for DUI, killed a toddler while driving intoxicated. In front of numerous witnesses he attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended. Once again he was released within hours of his arrest. Ultimately a local congressman became outraged and brought the case to the state, to have the state police track down and arrest the man, since the city police refused to hold him.

I understand some people will complain about this being an anecdote (which it is, though true). It just happens to be an anecdote, however, about a dead child, killed by a man known to be here illegally, and routinely driving drunk without even a license, and one representing a pattern of release which doesn’t appear to be uncommon, if follow up news reports are to be believed.

Bernard Yomtov February 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Apparently all the things that are happening that those in affected areas can see with their own eyes are not in fact happening but are simply the figment of our overheated, profit-blocking imaginations, or something.

Because the fact that you get nervous when you see some Hispanics around means more than any actual data.

I’d go with “something” as the explanation.

q February 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm

However, I must agree that this article, while undermining a racist argument against immigration, absolutely supports the idea that immigrants commit more crime. Not because they’re racially prone to it, but because of neutral demographic characteristics. So, far from condemning the idea of opposing immigration as racist, this article has given neutral scientific support to those who wish to oppose immigration. They can say that immigration increases crime without having to make a racist argument.

If those against immigration are truly concerned about crime/capita, wouldn’t the best policy be to allow more immigrants with characteristics that reduce crime? That way, crime/capita is lowered and the immigrant is better off.

Do you really think those against immigration want to make it easier for the young, male Latinos to move their families over, who are demographically less likely to commit crime? And where are all the calls to liberate the H-1B visa program?

P February 21, 2010 at 1:51 am

I haven’t read the article, but I do wonder if it breaks it down into the crime rates of recent immigrants vs. 2nd and 3rd generations. If it is the case that the 3rd generation in Hispanic families have low crime rates, then there is nothing to worry about. But if it doesn’t disprove the prejudice that immigrant parents are honest and hardworking, while their children, corrupted by U.S. culture, are lazy and criminal, then it hasn’t really me. It strikes me as incredibly likely that El Paso, L.A., etc. have very low crime rates because they have enormous populations of recent immigrants.

cynthia.curran February 21, 2010 at 3:45 am

Portland is not affuent its income average is even below Anaheim which has many illegal immirgnts. Portland white poverty is 12 percent and Anaheim’s hispanic poverty is 17 percent. Whites in Anaheim have only a 4 percent poverty.

Thomassen February 21, 2010 at 9:37 am

The example of the cities is poor, and the reason is obivous: Latinos crowd out african-americans. The effect of reduced crime rates clearly follows.

Scott February 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm

For the crime numbers about Los Angeles, I wonder if they’re looking at just the City if Los Angeles, or if they’re including all the little municipalities that are incorporated nearby or next door to the LA City border.

Joe February 22, 2010 at 6:37 pm
JG July 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

@24AheadDotCom
“Note also that the article doesn’t go into cultural issues; a good number of Hispanics are tolerant of various forms of illegal activity. While many are opposed to illegal imm., many support it. That’s the type of mindset that’s going to have a long-term impact on the U.S.”

That sounds like you have some burden (of proof) in your hands, not Tyler Cowen.

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