‘Immigrant Paradox’: U.S. Citizens More Likely Than Immigrants to Commit Crime 

By Eva Herscowitz | 2 hours ago

U.S. citizens are more likely to commit a crime than immigrants, refuting rightwing rhetoric that blames rising immigration for the uptick in crime, according to a  study published in Crime & Delinquency.

The higher rate of offending among U.S. citizens remains consistent for all types of crime, from minor offenses to more serious ones, the study says.

The authors — Erin A. OrrickSam Houston State University (SHSU) Associate Professor of Criminology, Chris Guerra, SHSU Doctoral Research Assistant in criminology, and Alex R. Piquero, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas — analyzed the administrative records of inmates incarcerated in Texas for homicide.

In addition to determining that rates of all types of offenses are lower among foreign citizens, they identified differences based on immigration status in rates of previous offending.

“The results of the growth curve models examining criminal careers for all arrests and by crime type provide additional evidence to refute the unsupported but continued public rhetoric suggesting that immigrants pose an increased risk to public safety,” the authors wrote.

Many immigrants who were deported in recent years for supposedly threatening public safety were never convicted of a criminal offense, and many immigrants who have been convicted and incarcerated for crimes and eligible for deportation were released within the U.S., the authors found.

Capturing rates of repeated previous offending, the authors found that non-Texas born U.S. citizens, on average, had more previous arrests than immigrants. Foreign citizens averaged 2.78 previous arrests, with a range up to 18 and a history of violent arrests and previous incarcerations.

The study’s findings support the “immigrant paradox,” the consensus that immigration and crime aren’t associated, and that immigrants do better on many of the social indicators associated with crime.

In reality, immigrants are underrepresented in the criminal legal system, which the authors attribute to “both differences in immigrant-citizen offending patterns, differences in criminal-legal processing, or some combination thereof.”

“While this study and others speak to behavioral differences, attitudinal differences between immigrants and citizens also exist,” the authors write. “As demonstrated by Piquero et al. (2016), immigrants reported lower levels of legal cynicism compared to those born in the US.”

To build on their findings, the authors recommend that future studies should take into account “immigrant-specific time measures,” including age of entry and duration in Texas or the US, which “may provide further insight into gaps in the observable criminal careers in this specific context.”

“While we believe that a focus on homicide offenders is a unique feature of our study, it could also be argued that we may have only encountered the tip-of-the-iceberg with respect to the offender pool,” the authors write.

To access the full study, click here.

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.