Does Mexican immigration reduce crime?

Robert Sampson writes in today’s NYT Op-Ed page:

…evidence points to increased immigration as a major factor associated with the lower crime rate of the 1990’s (and its recent leveling off).

Hispanic Americans do better on a range of various social indicators — including propensity to violence — than one would expect given their socioeconomic disadvantages.  My colleagues and I have completed a study in which we examined 8,000 Chicago residents who were asked about the characteristics of their neighborhoods.

Surprisingly, we found a significantly lower rate of violence among Mexican-Americans than among blacks and whites…Indeed, the first-generation immigrants (those born outside the United States) in our study were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than were third-generation Americans, adjusting for family and neighborhood background. [TC: But don’t absolute probabilities play the key role here?  And should we compare Mexicans to "blacks and whites" or to each group in isolation?]  Second-generation immigrants were 22 percent less likely to commit violence than the third generation.

Our study further showed that living in a neighborhood of concentrated immigrants is directly associated with lower violence (again, after taking into account a host of factors…)

Alas, there is no permalink these days.  Here is the relevant project which generated the data.  No one of Sampson’s pieces on his web page seems to cover this result, though many are relevant more broadly.  Also see this summary of his criticism of "broken window" and "tipping point" theories of crime.

Here is another piece which seems to support the basic result that Mexican immigration lowers crime.  Here is a survey article on the topic.  This piece (see p.113) suggests that crime is lower in border cities than comparable non-border cities, and that Mexican immigration cannot be identified as a cause of a higher U.S. crime rate.

Yes comments are open, but purely anecdotal accounts of how you were once mugged by a Mexican, or how your neighborhood just isn’t "the same anymore" are discouraged.  I’m posting a version of this over at Volokh Conspiracy as well, look for the differing comments.

Addendum: Read Alex on this topic.


And should we compare Mexicans to "blacks and whites" or to each group in isolation?

The sentence in the NYT is a bit ambiguous, but I don't see why we ought to make the distinction you suggest. Isn't the issue whether Mexican immigrants have lower crime rates than the non-immigrant, or non-(Mexican immigrant), population?

My neighborhood in San Francisco was mostly black and chinese when I moved here 40 years ago, and is now is about half mexican immigrants. Over the same period of time, the crime rate has fallen dramatically, and the neighborhood has become noticably safer and more vibrant.
About twenty years ago, most of the storefronts were empty, boarded up or covered with graffiti. Now there is a graffiti crime watch (run by Mexican imigrants) and the storefronts are all full of businesses. Most of them are the sort I wouldn't ever patron (Western Union, TJ Max, etc.) but they seem to do great business.
The community has benefited tremendously from the immigration.

Here's a thought (and I haven't read the relevant articles, so they may have been addressed): A number of immigrants come from countries where the police are not trustworthy. Reporting a crime may result in a bigger problem than just putting up with it. If immigrants live in communities with other immigrants, then immigrant-on-immigrant crime may be the most common. The victims may be leery of reporting the crime to the police due to their bad experiences back home. I don't know if this applies in the case of Mexican (or other Latin American) immigrants. Incidentally, when will be seeing Robert Sampson on the "O'Reilly Factor" debating Bill on the merits of immigration?

By the way, here are the state and federal imprisonment per capita rates by ethnicity as of 2002 relative to the non-Hispanic white imprisonment rate:

Black 7.2
Hispanic 2.9
Native American 2.1
Pacific Islander 1.8
White 1.0
Asian 0.22

[Source: The Color of Crime 2005]

The Mexican imprisonment rate is probably a little bit lower than the overall Hispanic rate (because Caribbean Hispanics have very high crime rates), but it's still high compared to the white and, especially, Asian rates.

To the extent that Hispanic newcomers are forcing American blacks out of a city, which is probably happening in NYC, Hispanic immigration can slightly lower a particular city's crime rate, but obviously, for America as a whole, it's not lowering the number of criminals by any means. The African-Americans just move somewhere else within America. It's obvious why New York Times editors would have self-interested reasons to sponsor the dispersal of African-Americans from NYC under economic pressure from Hispanics, but why that is good for America as a whole remains mysterious.

Aren't illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes because they are illegal? This raises their cost of crime. The penalty they face may include deportation. There may be a positive externality that their children grow up in an environment where obeying the law (other than our immoral immigration laws) is highly valued.

Wouldn't one of the prime reasons 1st generation immigrants commit fewer crimes be the fact that they typically arrive as adults who are past (or mostly past) the prime age for criminal behavior? Combine that with the fact that immigrants are a self-selected, non-random sample and you've probably got the answer (as well as the reason the effect fades and disappears in the following generations).

I agree with Tyler that the relevant comparison is the absolute propensity to commit crime, NOT correcting for background. Even if we assume that a poor, uneducated immigrant is less likely to commit a crime than a poor, uneducated citizen, so long as the immigrants on the whole are more likely to commit crimes than the national population, crime rates nationwide will increase even if they decrease in a specific area.

Also if the focus is on the criminality of immigrants, then shouldn't we bias the laws to favor the least problematic immgrants? e.g. opening the doors to Asians while tightening immigration from Latin America?

My response to Sampson's NYT op-ed is now up at:

"heresay" above should read "heresey"

I will note that the crime rates in Mexico are astonishingly high compared to the US. Nor do I see any measure of immigration that lowers crime rates (by flooding the nation with vast amounts of people who don't commit crimes in America, unlike Mexico).

I could grant that this might happen (immigrants to the US from Mexico behave radically different than randomly selected Mexicans inside Mexico. But not the amount of immigration needed to wash out presumably the violent Americans.

The biggest objection is that Sampson offers no critique of alternate explanations: expanding economies making crime a bad economic choice (why commit crimes when you have a job)? Or a few bad actors who were responsible for most crimes being locked up.

Alternatively, we can posit that illegal immigration drives down wages at the low end and causes more people on the margins to turn to crime (petty and otherwise) to survive. And as rates of illegal immigration increase all things being equal, this effect will increase as well.

Maybe we can get the Mexicans to hunt down the real source of crime, blacks and their white benefactors, the proponents of the welfare state, which leads to the increased breeding of criminals, mostly black. Liberia was created for these blacks.

Sampson writes:
[Hispanic Americans do better on a range of various social indicators -- including propensity to violence -- than one would expect given their socioeconomic disadvantages.]

Let me translate this study: We can pay hispanic immigrants crap and they won't commit as many crimes white or black natives would if we paid them that crappy, because they come from a third world country so it's still a lot for them. But, more relavently to the actual crime rate, they still commit more crimes than native born because damnnnnn we pay them crappy! Oh, and the effect dissappears with each succeeding generation, and in America's long term future, generations after 1st generation are what matter.

Also, Hispanics have been poor and will be poor for a long time. Using Sampson's own equations plugging in socio-economic factors and spitting out crime, would undoubtedly reveal that for at least several decades to come (the time frame in which hispanics could concievably come close to anglo socio-economic indicators), hispanics will disproportionately commit crimes on an absolute scale (hispanics who are almost all descended from 1st generation immigrants).

I don't understand how some people can dismiss immigration restricionists as racist, nativist, anti-foriegn biased, etc. I'd like them to explain why not wanting to have crimes commited upon you on an absolute scale (screw Sampson's adjustment, if you are mugged by someone making 12,000 a year, Sampson doesn't weigh it as that important, but you still got mugged), is racist.

Has anybody compared this to cities that maybe majority minority? I wouldn't be surprised if there was a high correlation between those cities and lowered crime rates.

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