Does legalizing immigrants reduce their lawbreaking?

by on September 10, 2015 at 1:13 am in Data Source, Law, Political Science | Permalink

I reproduce this verbatim from Angus:

Cool study forthcoming in AEJ Applied about how legal immigration status reduced recidivism of foreign prisoners in the EU. Here’s a link to an un-gated version of the paper.

Here’s the abstract:

We exploit exogenous variation in legal status following the January 2007 European Union enlargement to estimate its effect on immigrant crime. We difference out unobserved time-varying factors by i) comparing recidivism rates of immigrants from the “new” and “candidate” member countries; and ii) using arrest data on foreign detainees released upon a mass clemency that occurred in Italy in August 2006. The timing of the two events allows us to setup a difference-in-differences strategy. Legal status leads to a 50 percent reduction in recidivism, and explains one-half to two-thirds of the observed differences in crime rates between legal and illegal immigrants.

So the good news is that the identification scheme here is pretty darn good. The bad news is that to achieve this strong identification, the paper ends up studying a fairly small sample of foreign criminals:

We are left with 725 and 1,622 individuals in the treated and control groups, respectively.

1 skeptic September 10, 2015 at 1:46 am

LOL–so now *any* reduction in criminality of immigrants is a good thing?

Even if the reduced rate is still higher?


Aggregate stats here are also silly, because they are lumping together groups that assimilate reasonably well and contribute to society (thinking here, e.g., Christian Arabs, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains) and groups that cause problems (thinking here Arab Muslims. Muslim Pakistanis, Somalis, etc.)

2 Steve Sailer September 10, 2015 at 1:47 am

As opposed to fingerprinting the illegal alien criminals and deporting them with the warning that if they are ever found in our country again, they’re going to prison for 20 years?

For some reason, that wasn’t tested.

3 Peter September 10, 2015 at 2:37 am

Similar proposals were tested in Germany and throughout Europe during World War II. Groups of people were effectively regarded as illegal alien criminals, were warned to leave, and were then punished wholesale.

4 Anon September 10, 2015 at 7:23 am

The best form of parody is the unintentional self-parody. You should throw out all of your computers and quit the internet.

5 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Bingo, Anon.

6 Axa September 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

Steeve, please compare the cost of a plane ticket back home with 20 years of prison. I remember the cost of keeping 1 people jailed for year is around 30K. With that you can pay a plane ticket to Australia every month. Is a morality lesson worth 600K per capita?

7 Arjun September 10, 2015 at 10:28 am

Why would you do this? A cursory look through Marginal Revolution archives shows that immigrants, even illegal immigrants, create net benefits to society. Money would be better spent on making it easier for all people to contribute and support themselves, rather than on repressive security measures that cause more problems than they solve.

8 josh September 10, 2015 at 11:20 am

“A cursory look through Marginal Revolution archives…”


9 Kris September 10, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I think you need to take a “cursory” look at Steve Sailer’s blog.

10 asdfG September 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I wouldn’t click that link at work if you work for a medium or large employer. Unless you want to get an email from IT asking you why you are visiting hate sites.

11 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Okay, asdfG. Who, exactly, does Steve Sailer hate?

Also, you poignantly demonstrate the power and reality of institutional anti-racism.

12 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:36 pm

They’re marginal benefits. Money would be better spent on keeping America American. Would a Chinese-majority America still be America? Or would it be Taiwan? Would a Mestizo-majority America still be America? Or would it be Puerto Rico? Would a Black-majority America still be America? Or would it be Jamaica? Would an Arab-majority America still be America? Or would it be Tunisia? Of course, there’s room for immigration, but the important thing is to prevent immigration from turning the U.S. into some kind of foreign country, especially one in a less desirable state than the U.S. is at present.

13 Dmitri Helios September 10, 2015 at 8:43 pm

“Would a slave-less America still be America? Or would it be France?” – Every slave owner in 1845. Jeez.

14 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 10:52 pm

A slave-less America would be a better America. The short-term economic benefits were much outweighed by the long-term economic costs, both of introducing a sizable low-average-IQ population into the U.S. and of failing to build up institutions for the flourishing of free labor.

15 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Dmitri, what if, in 1845, the U.S. kicked off all its slaves to, say, Cuba?

16 reader September 10, 2015 at 12:20 pm

The reason being, we don’t want to do that. It seems like you have intractable differences with your fellow voters. Maybe try moving to Hungary?

17 Kris September 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Naah! Too many gypsies there. 🙂

18 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:39 pm

I don’t know if their gypsies are generally any worse than our Blacks.

19 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:42 pm

And, besides, Hungary is a poorer nation than the U.S. How about Vermont or Finland?

20 Reader September 10, 2015 at 6:02 pm

You may want to take a look at a map. You might discover something about the relationship between the U.S. and Vermont.

But Finland, sure, that seems like a great place for Steve Sailer to move.

21 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Do you seriously think Vermont is ever going to be less than 60% White or more than 10% Hispanic?

22 Reader September 10, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Also what happened to the screen shots? I could be replying to the fake you for all I know (thought it doesn’t like it).

23 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 6:11 pm

God. I haven’t had any impersonator on my back (to my knowledge) since I’ve impersonated Cowen, and the screenshots were tiresome. Here’s one:

24 Peldrigal September 13, 2015 at 11:36 am

That would be sub-optimal, since, jailing someone is extremely expensive, and a net drain on national resoruces. Try again.

25 Chip September 10, 2015 at 2:24 am

Pew did a much bigger survey several years ago and found:

– 81% of British Muslims see themselves as Muslim first, British second
– a majority denied that Arabs were responsible for 9/11
– a majority want Iran to get the bomb

Other studies have shown that radicalized Britons tend to be born there and relatively wealthy and educated.

There are more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than in the British military.

Second-generation Muslims are disproportionately in prison and unemployed.

I don’t understand this discomfort with admitting that the Islamic belief system is flush with some pretty awful social pathologies. It’s a cultural deficiency in every Muslim country in the world today.

It’s like reality is irrelevant.

They need a Reformation. Though how you reform a religion established by a person known to have murdered blind old men and pregnant women, while visiting death on non believers is a rather tricky thing to do.

Is there a love thy neighbour theme in the Koran that a reform movement can build on?

26 Luis Dias September 10, 2015 at 3:48 am

There is surely a “love thy neighbour” theme, but in this outrage twitter / facebook culture we now live in, it’s hard to pay attention to more than either the raging extreme islamic lunatics or the angry anti-islam loud voices. Everywhere in the world and regading every single issue, I’d say that polarization is increasing in any theme. The radicals everywhere are “winning” the social media wars.

If you want to listen to a good moderate voice that is trying to do something about the islamism problem in the UK (and elsewhere) I’d totally namedrop mr. Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam foundation. He has been a fervent defender of freedom of speech and liberal values.

27 Thiago Ribeiro September 10, 2015 at 4:56 am

“Though how you reform a religion established by a person known to have murdered blind old men and pregnant women, while visiting death on non believers is a rather tricky thing to do.”
You mean as opposed to Moses et al?

28 Axa September 10, 2015 at 5:29 am

“A majority denied that Arabs were responsible for 9/11”. Well, Arab describes the people from the Arabian Peninsula, Middle East and North Africa. So, it’s a region bounded by Morocco, Sudan, Syria and a diffusive boundary in Iraq and Iran. Looking at the extent and diversity of the region, it’s really shocking that a majority of “Arabs” said they were not responsible of 9/11.

Dumb questions will never give good answers.

29 Nathan W September 10, 2015 at 9:00 am

First, I don’t want to go “too PC” on you, but I think the word “deficiency” in “cultural deficiency” is going to set off dis-ease in the people who are most likely to be able to respond to the most interesting part of your post.

“They need a Reformation. … Is there a love thy neighbour theme in the Koran that a reform movement can build on?”

First, as an aside … Jesus is the second most respected prophet (not son of God) in Islamic tradition, even more so than Abraham (not a prophet) or Moses. The Bible itself is highly respected by quite a lot “real” Muslims, although of course for “true believers” in any case of contradiction it is at all times superceded by Mohammed (the last prophet).

I think the grain of what you are looking for can be found in the word “jihad”. A very large number of Muslims consider this to be that very scary “holy war” kind of thing, but interpret it more as a sort of self defense clause than as any sort of obligation to conversion-by-the-sword. Consider it as something like “If you screw with me I have God’s sanction to rip your face off” sort of thinking. Foreign armies in Iraq or Afghanistan, therefore, easily motivate this sort of thinking since we are either unbelievers or Christian (where the unbelievers are probably disdained even more so than the Christians, who have the benefit of at least believing in “God”).

HOWEVER, since the 19th century there has been an increasingly adopted interpretation of the word “jihad” which stems from some other instances in the Koran, and interpret “jihad” to be a very personal thing, an inner struggle, a struggle which is defined by self improvement, to be the very best you can, to be a “good person”, if you will.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the root from which Muslims who wish to remain observant, but push forward with “modernism” in some sense, seek to grow.

It is probably the easiest and quickest way to pick out the Salafist/Wahhabist influence in a mosque. Ask a few people “what does jihad mean to you?”. If they answer “holy war”, they may still be a moderate because they may not see any present cause for jihad-as-holy-war, but if they speak of personal growth and struggle, then these are the people who need to be handed a microphone. “Traditional” clerics who lean more towards the Salafist/Wahabist INTERPRETATIONS (while they claim to read this poetry “literally”), of course, will resist what they may see as an effort to undermine their version of “real Islam” (a situation which would also reduce their social status, were other interpretations to become more accepted).

Like the Quakers, however, who are very personal about their faith, it is altogether unlikely that you will find large numbers of jihad-as-personal-strugglers going missionary style with their vision, and the movement would lose all legitimacy if outsiders were to try to co-opt it.

Jihad as personal struggle. That is the “love thy neighbour theme” that one current reform movement builds on. But if us infidels lay a finger on it, it will lose all credibility.


It doesn’t seem as though there are any Muslim readers of this blog. It would be nice if someone knowledgeable could critique my interpretation here, without worrying, for the sake of discussion, that there are “too many” jihad-as-holy-war-and-it-is-NOW folks out there at the present moment, both on the Christian and Muslim sides of this altogether unpacific interpretation of jihad.

Love your neighbour. Indeed.

30 Tom September 10, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Jesus important to muslims … Right. I’m still wondering why not more atheists get their heads hacked off for defaming Jesus though?

31 Nathan W September 10, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Don’t paint an entire religion of one billion + people for the actions of some handful of whackjob extremists.

32 Nathan W September 10, 2015 at 9:12 am

The scary thing about Salafists/Wahabists is that they see the battlefield as the place where God’s preferences are revealed. Rational discussion has no place with these people, and unfortunately bombing them into submission may not even be possible, since they believe that waging jihad-as-war earns them a place in “heaven” (and never mind whether they literally believe that 72 virgins will be waiting, but it suffices to say that they believe they will be rewarded greatly in the eternal afterlife for their violence in the present life).

It troubles me greatly, as a pacifist, to find myself arguing that violent eradication of these lines of thinking may be the only way.

What then of the US-Saudi alliance, which transfers massive military power to the seat of Wahhabist Islam?

AND, in the process of whatever we do, we must be exceedingly careful to ensure that certain sects of fundamentalist Christians, who can be equally as warped, do not see this as their opportunity to self-fulfill the “Armageddon” “prophecy” and send us into global war. Hence the need to accept horrific short-term humanitarian crisis while trying to engineer strong international consensus on whatever is do be done about ISIS.

(citations needed – I translated some yet-to-be published articles on “political Islam”)

33 JWatts September 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

“AND, in the process of whatever we do, we must be exceedingly careful to ensure that certain sects of fundamentalist Christians, who can be equally as warped, do not see this as their opportunity to self-fulfill the “Armageddon” “prophecy” and send us into global war. ”

The phrase False dichotomy is overused, but it’s applicable in this case. The threat from fundamentalist Christians is minuscule compared to the the threat from fundamentalist Islamists. Stating it this way devalues your entire argument.

34 John L. September 10, 2015 at 1:58 pm

“The threat from fundamentalist Christians is minuscule compared to the the threat from fundamentalist Islamists.”
No , it is not. No fundamentalist Muslim regime-except America’s good friend Pakistan, remember when Nixon helped them to kill Indins and Bangladeshis?- has nuclear weapons, they can’t as of now make more problems than (some kinds of) Christian fundamentalists (the ones who supported Bush’s policies in the Middle East because God wants a literal final war in Megiddo).

35 Nathan W September 10, 2015 at 9:19 pm

“Stating it this way devalues your entire argument.”

Your comment communicates precisely the following: “I am a right wing American”. No more.

36 Engineer Dad September 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

“They need a Reformation”

While Syrian need a education reformation, their institutions of higher education are unlikely to provide it.

The best university Syria has to offer is Damascus University. (Motto: ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’) Student number: 210,929.

Webometics ranking of the worlds universities indicates Damascus University compares quite favorably with Mississippi College, (3540th vs 3376 worldwide), however Damascus University does appear to be out-muscled scholastically by two other Mississippi universities, Mississippi University, (442 worldwide) and the University of Southern Mississippi (817 worldwide).

According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, the top three Syrian universities are:
1) Damascus University (3540th worldwide) 2) The University of Aleppo (7176th) and 3) Tishreen University (7968th).

37 Tom September 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm

C’mon Chip, if it was that bad, why would we be inviting a million of them just in 2015? Don’t be such a gloomy gus! We’ll all adjust.

38 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:40 pm

“a majority want Iran to get the bomb”

-That sounds like BS. I want Iran to get the bomb, but why would most Sunni Muslims in the UK?

39 Dmitri Helios September 11, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Why do you want Iran to get the Bomb?

40 Kevin C. September 10, 2015 at 6:53 pm

“They need a Reformation.”

I keep hearing this silly trope repeated by people who clearly don’t know enough European history, particularly pre-Westphalian Protestantism and it’s iconoclasm. If they did, they’d realize that Islam has already had a Reformation; it’s the Wahhabis and Salafists. What brought about the change in Christian practice you’re looking for in Europe was not the “Reformation”, but the principle of cuius regio eius religio and the Peace of Westphalia, which themselvves arose from Europeans tiring of the vast carnage of the Thirty Years’ War.

41 Peldrigal September 13, 2015 at 11:37 am

A majority of Italians see themselves as members of their regions or cities, first, and Italians second. Deport all Lombards, Romans and Neapolitans!

42 James Hartwick September 10, 2015 at 10:07 am

In light of some of the comments above, I would like to point out that my opposition to taking in these migrants isn’t a result of them being Muslims or Arabs. The opposition would be the same were the migrants Confucians from China, Orthodox from Eastern Europe, Hindus from India, or Catholics from South America. I suspect many think as I do.

43 Nathan W September 10, 2015 at 9:21 pm

“I suspect many think as I do.”

How do you think?

44 Al September 10, 2015 at 10:10 am

This is from page 2 of the cited paper: “Migration restrictions are often coupled with work restrictions. Illegal immigrants are thus precluded from taking legal jobs and from receiving welfare benefits, which in turn would lower their opportunity cost of committing crimes.”

Once I gain access to government welfare benefits and government funded legal protection as a job seeker and job holder, I am less likely to commit crimes.

Unless it’s criminalized, immigration is always a win-win-win: GDP goes up, all wages rise, infrastructure is expanded and repaired before it breaks down, traffic flows more smoothly than before, education levels are universally higher, all services are more abundant than before, government coffers overflow and tax rates drop for all.

No one suffers or loses their job or pays any price.

Plus, low cost healthy global cuisine is available on every corner and the price doesn’t matter because you can pay with the trillion dollar bill you found on the sidewalk.

(Can someone please give me an A on my term paper now?)

45 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

I’m not Tyler Cowen, but you’d probably get a A. Didn’t mention the psychological relief experienced by Americans’ knowledge that the Third and Second worlds are suffering a little less.

46 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm

“an A”. Man, am I bad at spelling today!

47 Anon September 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

A better/more well-identified paper by the same author:

Another finding similar things:

Seems relatively uncontroversial that more labor opportunities = less crime for an individual. Illegal immigration being net beneficial is a question very much not answered by the papers.

48 Frederic Bush September 10, 2015 at 10:28 am

Is the comment about the sample size meant to be taken seriously? I’m not a trained statistician but with an effect size that big, the sample size seems entirely adequate to draw strong conclusions.

49 Minority Bolshevism September 10, 2015 at 4:45 pm

“Does legalizing immigrants reduce their lawbreaking?”


50 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

How do you know?

51 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 5:48 pm

I think the best critique of this is the Lucas Critique. It’s plausible that at present, giving illegals welfare checks reducing lawbreaking. Welfare checks and employment opportunities give former illegals more incentives to not wander into prison.

52 E. Harding September 10, 2015 at 6:27 pm

*is reducing

53 Sam September 11, 2015 at 1:32 am

Of course: being there is illegal if they are not legalized. Afterwards they can be there legally, so they don’t break the law.

54 Miko September 11, 2015 at 2:05 am

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