Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

February 26, 2008

The Relationship Between Immigration And Crime

by Doug Mataconis

The San Jose Mercury News reports on a study of California’s immigrant, including illegal immigrant, population:

Countering widespread belief, a new report shows California’s foreign-born population – including illegal immigrants – makes up only a sliver of the state’s population of inmates.

The report by the Public Policy Institute of California, released Monday, also suggests the foreign-born population, which makes up more than a third of the state’s adults, plays a disproportionately smaller role in serious crime.

“Crime, Corrections, and California: What Does Immigration Have to Do with It?” gives one of the clearest glimpses yet into the impact of immigrants and immigration on the state’s justice system.

It also aims to dispel the perception that cities with large foreign-born populations are criminal hot beds, with several California cities showing a dip in police activity amid recent immigration waves.

Among the study’s conclusions:

• Foreign-born men make up about 35 percent of the state’s adult male population, but they are roughly 17 percent of the state’s overall prison inmates.

• U.S.-born men are jailed in state prisons at a rate more than three times higher than foreign-born men and are 10 times more likely to land behind bars.

• Male Mexican nationals ages 18 to 40 – those more likely to have entered the country illegally – are more than eight times less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to be imprisoned.

• Those who entered the country when they were 1 year old or younger make up about 0.8 percent of those institutionalized.

More from the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Our research indicates that limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety,” [report co-author Kristen] Butcher said in a statement.

So much for that canard, I suppose.

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  • UCrawford

    No surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to more than the rhetoric. I’m sure the anti-immigration folk will be showing up soon to claim that the studies are all just neocon trickery.

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  • Quincy

    Well, this confirms what I’ve thought for a long, long time. It’s not the first generation immigrants, it’s their descendants along with other groups that have had significant exposure to the welfare state in California that are the real drivers of crime.

  • trumpetbob15

    Not to fully play devil’s advocate here, but if we are talking about serious crimes, what about people who flee back across the border to escape? They won’t wind up in jail, but they also wouldn’t be in the country anymore. It also would be helpful to have a statistic on the percentage of unsolved crimes. If the police only solve 10%, or even 40%, of serious crimes, the possibility of an immigrant committing the crime would skew these results if we are truly looking at immigrants vs. citizens committing crimes.

  • Benjamin Kuipers

    There is no question about whether illegal immigrants commit more crimes. They all commit federal crimes by illegally entering the United States. Perhaps U.S. citizens violate federal law on an equitable basis, but we can know one thing is absolutely without doubt, every single solitary undocumented migrant present in the U.S. has broken the law, and, through their continued presence within the U.S., continue to violate it.

  • Joshua Holmes


    Your fundamental mistake is to confuse breaking the law with committing a crime.

  • David Wilson

    Way to go, Doug!

  • Benjamin Kuipers


    Breaking the law constitutes committing a crime.

  • UCrawford


    Breaking the law constitutes committing a crime.

    Only if you operate under the assumption that all laws are just…which history has conclusively demonstrated is not the case:

    Violating the rights of another individual or his property constitutes a crime…breaking a law that restricts consensual human interaction is merely breaking a law.

  • Benjamin Kuipers

    Crawford: “Only if you operate under the assumption that all laws are just”

    Not so, not all laws are just. Many things which are crimes which do not violate the rights of others… smoking dope, insider-trading, etc…

  • Doug Mataconis

    And overly strict immigration laws.

  • Benjamin Kuipers

    Of course, but this in no way indicates that the acts are not crimes… but rather, victimless crimes.

  • UCrawford


    Of course, but this in no way indicates that the acts are not crimes… but rather, victimless crimes.

    There is no such thing as a victimless crime…”crimes” that may be accurately classified as “victimless” are nothing more than violations of pointless and likely unjust laws.

  • Benjamin Kuipers


    You are appealing to some natural law or some other revealed or imaginary construct of your imagination. It is indeed a crime to break the law, regardless if no one is harmed. This in no way speaks to whether the law is just or unjust… in any event, a crime has been committed.

  • Doug Mataconis


    So if you had lived in Nazi Germany and the law required you to turn over your Jewish neighbors to the SS, you would’ve done so ?

    After all, the law is the law.

  • Benjamin Kuipers

    Of course not, I have never written that individuals are always bound morally to obey the law, merely that, if one breaks it, he has in fact violated it, and committed a “crime.”

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