Social Problems, Vol. 56, Issue 3, pp. 447–473, ISSN 0037-7791, electronic ISSN 1533-8533. © 2009 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website at www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo/asp. DOI: 10.1525/sp.2009.56.3.447.
Exploring the Connection between
Immigration and Violent Crime Rates
in U.S. Cities, 1980–2000
Graham C. Ousey, College of William & Mary
Charis E. Kubrin, George Washington University
A popular perception is that immigration causes higher crime rates. Yet, historical and contemporary research finds that at the individual level, immigrants are not more inclined to commit crime than the native born. Knowledge of the macro-level relationship between immigration and crime, however, is characterized by important gaps. Most notably, despite the fact that immigration is a macro-level social process that unfolds over time, longitudinal macro-level research on the immigration-crime nexus is virtually nonexistent. Moreover, while several theoretical perspectives posit sound reasons why over-time changes in immigration could result in higher or lower crime rates, we currently know little about the veracity of these arguments. To address these issues, this study investigates the longitudinal relationship between immigration and violent crime across U.S. cities and provides the first empirical assessment of theoretical perspectives that offer explanations of that relationship. Findings support the argument that immigration lowers violent crime rates by bolstering intact (two-parent) family structures. Keywords: immigration, violent crime, demographic transitions, family structure, drug markets. Nearly 80 years ago, criminologist Edwin Sutherland (1924, 1934) highlighted immigration and crime as an area of popular misconception and policy distortion. Today, not much has changed as both public opinion about immigration and immigration policy appear to be driven more by stereotype than by empirical fact (Martinez and Lee 2000). Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing (2007) note: “The misperception that the foreign born, especially illegal immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates is deeply rooted in American public opinion and is sustained by media anecdote and popular myth” (p. 3; see also Hagan, Levi, and Dinovitzer 2008:96).
In contrast to common perception, a rapidly expanding literature reports that immigrants are less criminally involved than their native-born counterparts (Hagan and Palloni 1999; Martinez 2002). Based on an extensive review of the literature, Ramiro Martinez and Matthew Lee (2000) conclude:...