Immigration prompts crime: reality or outmoded stereotype? Country case: USADuring his election campaign and as President of the USA, Donald Trump drew considerable attention to his immigration policy. Certainly, a mainstay of hisstrategy is the idea of building a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants whorepresent a “double threat” for American people, both economically and criminally. Generally, Mr. Trump is quite sceptic about immigrants’ assimilation within the American culture. For this reason, he proposes an “ideological test” which will determine whether an immigrant shares American values and loves American people (Bump, 2016). In addition, he signed an executive order that blocks entrance visas of the immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish an office of “VOICE” serving “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” and to do a weekly report ona “wide ranging list of criminal actions carried out by aliens”. The Department found out that 1.9 million noncitizens living in the United States – whether legally or illegally – have been found guilty in criminal offenses and could be deported (Perez-Pena, 2017).

The aim of this study is to examine the immigration-crime relationship and find out whether association of immigrants with crime can be proven by empirical evidence orit is simply a public discourse that based on fear and stereotype.

The study conducted by Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh in March 2017 was based on an investigation of the American Community Survey datato analyse incarcerated immigrants accordingto their citizenship and legal status. They focused particularly on immigrants aged between 18 to 54 who are detained in the United States, adding that the American Community Survey data should be considered reliable since data collection had been conducted by or under the supervision of correctional institutions’ administrators. Unlike the local and state governments, the ACS estimates the incarcerated population by their nativity and naturalization status and here is the result of study: there were recorded 2,007,502 natives, 122,939 illegal immigrants, and 63,994 legal immigrants incarcerated in 2014.  While the incarceration rate for natives was 1.53 %, for illegal immigrants it equalled 0.85 % and for legal immigrants- 0.47%.

As Figure 1 shows, illegal immigrants are 44% less likely to be incarcerated than natives, while legal immigrants are 69% less likely to be incarcerated than natives (Landgrave & Nowrasteh, 2017).


Figure 1. Incarceration Rates by Immigration Status, Ages 18-54


Immigration prompts crime: reality or outmoded stereotype? Country case: USA


Source: Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh analysis of the American Community Survey Data








Another study undertaken by The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group, announced a similar result, noting that “foreign-born residents of the USA are less likely to commit a crime than native-born citizens, even more, increased immigration may have decreased the level of crime rates in United States since 1990”(Bernal, 2017). It is worth noting that American Immigration Council (AIC) shares the same view:  due to a 2015 report by AIC “while the immigrant population of the USA has grown by more than 5% during the last 25 years, violent crime has dropped dramatically”. The foreign-born share of the US population inclined from 7,9% in 1990 to 13,1% in 2013. Concurrently, by analysing the FBI data of the same period we can see that the violent crime rate has dropped 48%, which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (Bondarenko & Gould, 2017).

According to a 2015 update to the analysis of the Census Bureau and crime rate statistics, while approximately 1.6% of immigrant males aged between 18-39 have been detained, 3.3% of the native-born citizens in the United States have been arrested. It is very interesting that this sharp difference in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as recorded by data from 1980s’, 1990s’, and 2000s’ decennial censuses. In each of those decades, the incarceration rates of the native-born were from 2 to 5 times higher than that of the immigrants (Bobkoff, Mosher, & Gould, 2017).

In an article in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, published in 2017,Robert Adelman, Lesley Williams Reid, Gail Markle, Saskia Weiss, and Charles Jaret mention that “even during the first half of the twentieth century– the period of fast immigration and predominant anti-immigrant feeling, existing data do not indicate a positive relationship between immigration and crime (Adelman, Reid, Markle, & Weiss, 2017).Although immigrants are found less likely to commit a crime than the native ones, it is very interesting and strange that this situation changes dramatically when the children and grandchildren of immigrants are considered. Empirical research in Chicago shows that thenumber of the immigrants’ children who committed violence was 1.33 times higher than the appropriate indicator for immigrants, however, the grandchildren of immigrants committed twicemore crimes than the first-generation immigrants themselves (Adelman, Reid, Markle, & Weiss, 2017). It means that naturalization of immigrants does not imply that they will not commit any crime in future. Thinking more deeply about gradually increasing crime rates of children and grandchildren of immigrants, my personal view is that when a person gets full citizenship of any country his/her commitment to abiding by the legislation becomes less intense, which ultimately increases the probability of breaking the law. However, it is noteworthy that although the above-mentioned fact shows that children and grandchildren of immigrants are more likely to commit crimes in comparison with their ancestors, crime rates were not greater than the occurrence of offences among the people whose ancestors had arrived in the U.S. earlier (Adelman, Reid, Markle, & Weiss, 2017).

The uniqueness of the research of the abovementioned authors lies in their taking into consideration the geographical and temporally contingent nature of the immigration-crime relationship at the macro level. Precisely, their analysis shows that relationship between migration and crime could be temporary and affected by certain areas of country. Therefore, by examining the immigration vs. crime relationship they focused on an investigation across different metropolitan areas and over a certain periods, as immigration patterns varied sharply in the USA at those periods. Considering the fact that virtually all modern empirical research on the immigration-crime link is based on the data from 1990 or later, when the country’s economy has been relatively improving until recently, the outcomes achieved might be missing the huge impact of large economic changes. Therefore, the authors’ research cover the analysis of the immigration – crime relationship over a 40-year period starting from 1970 to 2010 and a broad range of criminal offenses.


Figure 2. Average rates of the violent crime index, murder, aggravated assault, and robbery across U.S. metropolitan areas, 1970-2010. For scaling reasons the right axis represents the rate of murder while the left axis represents rates of violent crime, aggravated assault, and robbery.


Immigration prompts crime: reality or outmoded stereotype? Country case: USA


Source: Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice








Figure 3. Average rates of the property crime index, burglary, and larceny across U.S. metropolitan areas, 1970-2010.

Immigration prompts crime: reality or outmoded stereotype? Country case: USA


Source: Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice







As the Figure 2 for violent crimes shows, immigration has no influence on assault and a negative influence on robbery and murder, Figure 3 indicates that for property crimes, immigration has a secular negative effect. This finding is quite strong and steady, which explains that at the macro level, immigration does not trigger crime to increase in the U.S. metropolitan areas, and may even contribute in a positive way.

So, if empirical evidence does not support the idea that both legal and undocumented immigrants are exceedingly susceptible to commit crimes in the United States, then why President Trump does his best in order to criminalize immigration? Regarding  this question, “democrats argue that it’s an undeniable fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, but what Mr. Trump did during his election campaign could be simply portrayed as the use of  fear of immigrants for political gain among his voter base” (Bernal, 2017).A special report doneby Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E.Martinez, and Ruben G. Rumbaut in the American Immigration Council indicates that, immigration policy in the United States is generally shaped by fear and stereotype rather than by any empirical evidence. Although, there is  more than enough evidence for immigration not being a reason of high crime rates in the United States and immigrants being less likely to be behind the bars than the native-born, policymakers succumb to their fears and prejudices about immigrants. Consequently, the government applies double standards when the question of responsibility for criminal stance appears. An immigrant who experiences even the slightest clash with the criminal justice system, such as being convicted of a misdemeanour, can easily find himself subject to arrest for an unclear period, with the possibility of being later expelled from the country and banned from returning. In other words, the government has been deliberately constructing a certain image of a “criminal alien” in the minds of native-born citizens (Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbaut, 2015).

For this reason, Americans believe that immigrants are more likely than natives to commit crimes, and the rising immigration can be directly blamed for growing crime rates. As Mary C. Waters  and Jessica T. Simes emphasize, that such sort of thinking about immigrants have three politically consequences which are: 1) negative societal approach towards immigration, 2) political mobilization of groups such as Tea Party, who support local ordinances targeted to criminalize undocumented people and those who would support undocumented people, and 3) a growing trend of treating people in detention for immigration violations in the same way as criminals, blurring the line between detention centers and prisons (Waters & Simes, 2013).

Certainly, the stereotype of an illegal alien has deep historical roots which serve as a buffer zone for major anti – immigrant policies aiming at excluding the flow of immigrants to the United States for a long period, however, the association of immigration with crime merely exists in the political discourse; all available data support the opposite view. Therefore, academicians and policymakers should provide the general public with reliable information about the immigrant criminality in order to remove this widely accepted, but nonetheless wrong assumption.




1. Adelman, R., Reid, L. W., Markle, G., & Weiss, S. (2017). Urban crime rates and the changing face of immigration: Evidence across four decades. Journal of Etnicity in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from

2. Bernal, R. (2017). Reports find that immigrants commit less crime than US-born citizens. The Hill. Retrieved from

3. Bobkoff, D., Mosher, D., & Gould, S. (2017). Trump's speech highlighted victims of crimes by immigrants — but a look at the data shows it's incredibly rare. Business Insider. Retrieved from

4. Bondarenko, V., & Gould, S. (2017). Despite Trump's speech, immigrants commit far fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Business Insider. Retrieved from

5. Bump, P. (2016). Here’s what Donald Trump said in his big immigration speech, annotated. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

6. Ewing, W. A., Martinez, D. A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2015). The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States. American Immigration Council. Retrieved from

7. Landgrave, M., & Nowrasteh, A. (2017). Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin. Immigration Research and Policy Brief. Retrieved from

8. Perez-Pena, R. (2017). Contrary to Trump’s Claims, Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes. The New York Times. Retrieved from

9. Waters, M. C., & Simes, J. T. (2013). The Politics of Immigration and Crime. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from


Share this post