Does more immigration mean less crime?

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Brace yourself for the backlash. University of Colorado sociologist Tim Wadsworth has a study out in Social Science Quarterly suggesting that more immigration leads to less crime. During the 1990s, the incidence of serious crime dropped in many places in the U.S.—but fastest in the cities with the largest increase in immigrants. That conclusion comes from studying demographic data from the Census for cities with more than 50,000 residents and information from the FBI about instances of homicide and robbery.

From the WSJ:

“The cities that experience[d] the greatest growth in immigration were the same one[s] that were experiencing the greatest declines in violent crime,” [Wadsworth] said. “While I don’t think I or anyone else will argue that immigration can explain the bulk of the crime drop, it seems like this is an important piece of the puzzle.”

The story continues:

[Wadsworth] offers a number of theories to explain this finding: immigrants often live in homogeneous enclaves within cities, which offer a degree of social cohesion that may produce lower crime rates; there may be a selection effect, where those driven to immigrate or (selected by their families to seek work in the U.S.) are the fittest and least likely to turn to crime.

And from a story in the University of Colorado’s Arts and Sciences magazine:

Some have suggested that immigrant communities are often characterized by extended family networks, lower levels of divorce, and cultural and religious beliefs that facilitate community integration. Wadsworth notes that “criminologists have long known that these factors provide buffers against crime.”

Wadsworth is hardly the first one to make the claim that immigration, at least as experienced in recent American history, drives down crime rates. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has looked at the issue extensively. You can read a great summary of his thinking here (PDF).

So now just one question. Who’s going to tell Arizona?