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First generation immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are less likely to commit all types of crime

Does legal or illegal immigration increase crime? That is an empirical question that should be answerable through rigorous research. Whatever the answer, it should inform our policy priorities and decisions. At the very least, if we are going to have a national conversation about immigration, the established facts should serve as common ground.

When you are done laughing (or crying) you might be interested to read about recent research into the correlation between patterns of immigration and various types of personal and property crime. Researchers have previously looked at this question by focusing on individuals Ė are immigrants more or less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans? Letís consider that question first.

The research overwhelmingly shows that first generation immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are less likely to commit all types of crime at all ages than the native born. Interestingly, by second generation the statistics look more like native born crime rates, so it does not take long to assimilate in this regard. As an aside, this, of course, does not include crossing the boarder illegally itself, but it has been pointed out that being an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal offense, but a civil offence.

Make no mistake, this data can be complicated, and there are studies showing higher incarceration rates for immigrants. Those studies, however, have significant flaws, such as relying on self report, or only looking at particular counties that are likely not representative.

The most complete data shows that immigrants are about one fifth less likely to be incarcerated than the native born. In fact the research delves deeper to determine why that is the case. The difference is not explained through deportation of criminals. Rather, it seems to be mostly due to the self-selective nature of immigration. Those who choose to immigrate, whether legally or illegally, appear to be less likely to commit crimes, or are more responsive to deterrents.

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