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Reason Foundation

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Illegal Immigrants and Crime

Adrian Moore
February 18, 2010, 6:58pm

As my colleague Radley points out, this article in American Conservative is very gutsy. It begins pointing out

[T]o a considerable extent, popular concerns about immigrant crime and popular concerns about Hispanic crime amount to the same thing. While fears of perceived racial insensitivity may force many critics to choose their words carefully, widespread belief that Hispanics have high or perhaps very high crime rates seems to exist. But is this correct?

and concludes

The evidence presented here powerfully refutes the widespread popular belief that America’s Hispanics have high crime rates. Instead, their criminality seems to fall near the center of the white national distribution, being somewhat higher than white New Englanders but somewhat lower than white Southerners. Taken as a whole, the mass of statistical evidence constitutes strong support for the “null hypothesis,” namely that Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age.

We must bear in mind that most Hispanics are still of very recent immigrant origins and thus are considerably poorer than the average American. There actually does exist a connection between poverty and crime, even if liberals make such a claim, and since today’s Hispanic population has roughly the same crime rate as far more affluent whites, there is every reason to expect that this crime rate will drop further as Hispanics continue to move up the economic ladder. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Douglas Besharov pointed out in an important but insufficiently noticed October 2007 New York Times column, the last decade or two have seen an extremely rapid economic advance for most of America’s Hispanic population. 10 This rise may be connected with the simultaneous and unexpectedly rapid drop in urban crime rates throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the national debate over immigration remains contentious. Restrictionists can provide numerous completely legitimate arguments in favor of their position, ranging from economic competition and cultural conflict to national overpopulation and environmental degradation. But they will discredit these by including unsubstantiated claims about crime. Conservatives have traditionally prided themselves on being realists, dealing with the world as it is rather than attempting to force it to conform to a pre-existing ideological framework. But just as many on the Right succumbed to a fantastical foreign policy that makes the world much more dangerous than it needs to be, some have also accepted the myth that Hispanic immigrants and their children have high crime rates. Such an argument may have considerable emotional appeal, but there is very little hard evidence behind it.

Read the rest. Seriously.


Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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