What We Know and Don't Know About 'the' Immigration-Crime Link

Daniel P. Mears, The Urban Institute

Criminological theory and conventional wisdom hold that immigration and crime are inextricably linked: Immigrants are more criminal than non-immigrants, higher rates of immigration cause higher rates of crime, and increased immigration causes increased crime. Such "facts," if true, present important implications for criminological theories and for social policy. However, a review of extant research indicates that these "facts" are either incorrect or unknown. This review highlights the need for (1) much better data to assess "the" immigration-crime link, (2) specification of a standard criminological facts about immigration and crime (e.g., the prevalence of crime among legal and illegal immigrants versus non-immigrants, immigrant crime rates disaggregated by crime type, changes in immigrant crime rates), and (3) considerably more well-developed theories that can explain any individual or aggregate-level links, cross-sectionally or over time, between immigrants/immigration and crime. These issues and avenues for future research are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006