Do Illegal Immigrants Cause a Rise in Crime? Here's What a New Analysis Found

People pass graffiti along the border structure in Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Julie Watson)

A common refrain among conservatives is that illegal immigration brings with it a rise in crime. In fact, it’s such an entrenched belief that even daring to question it will earn you the contemptuous charges from fellow conservatives of being a dreaded leftist. Well, as is proverbially said, don’t kill the messenger, because new studies are beginning to reveal that illegal immigration and rising crime rates may have no causal connection.


There have been studies conducted that pointed to the fact that immigration doesn’t cause crime to increase. But, as The Marshall Project confesses, critics are quick to push back by pointing out that those studies only reveal information about legal immigration and not illegal immigration. Not so fast, though, says The Marshall Project, an author of one of the immigration and crime connection studies. They are now claiming that new data and new ways of analyzing that data are beginning to reveal a clearer picture about the relation between illegal immigration and crime:

In part because it’s hard to collect data on them, undocumented immigrants have been the subjects of few studies, including those related to crime. But Pew Research Center recently released estimates of undocumented populations sorted by metro area, which The Marshall Project has compared with local crime rates published by the FBI. For the first time, there is an opportunity for a broader analysis of how unauthorized immigration might have affected crime rates since 2007.

Probably surprising many and causing incredulity in some, The Marshall Project goes on to contend that the analysis of the new data suggests:

A large majority of the areas recorded decreases in both violent and property crime between 2007 and 2016, consistent with a quarter-century decline in crime across the United States. The analysis found that crime went down at similar rates regardless of whether the undocumented population rose or fell. Areas with more unauthorized migration appeared to have larger drops in crime rates, although the difference was small and uncertain.


To their credit, The Marshall Project points out some potential flaws in the analysis, including the reality that it’s difficult to actually know the exact number of illegal immigrants living in this country. It’s also true that illegal immigrants have a much more vested interest in flying under the radar than do legal immigrants. Committing crimes carries a double-whammy for those who are in this country illegally. However, The Marshall Project is quick to remind readers that:

The results of the analysis resemble those of other studies on the relationship between undocumented immigration and crime. Last year, a report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, found that unauthorized immigrants in Texas committed fewer crimes than their native-born counterparts. A state-level analysis in Criminology, an academic journal, found that undocumented immigration did not increase violent crime and was in fact associated with slight decreases in it. Another Cato study found that unauthorized immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated.

Obviously, more research and more analysis is necessary before the case is considered closed regarding the connection between illegal immigration and rising crime rates. However, this new report from The Marshall Project should remind all of us that it is important for everyone to have a little humility while recognizing that none of us have all the facts and, so, none of us can state conclusions with certainty about this issue. On matters like this, agreeing to disagree with civility while listening to each other will go a long way to restoring society to a place where we can actually talk to each other without anger.



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