Immigration and Crime

Immigration has long been regarded as a factor that influences the crime. However, migration can be voluntary and forced, returnable and irrevocable, legal and illegal. Often, the causes and conditions that led the person to change the place of residence are transformed into the causes and conditions that push to commit crimes of specific kind. Conversely, certain reasons and circumstances of the particular criminal activity that are superimposed on social and economic factors of migration have criminogenic impact on immigrants. Consequently, often causes and conditions of immigration and specific criminal activities are interrelated, thus they can affect one another. Certainly, the relationship between reasons and circumstances of immigration and crime are not new. Many researchers have repeatedly noted this fact. However, as a rule, emphasis is made on the unilateral action of the causes and conditions of the aforesaid phenomena: immigration is a factor that affects crime rates, or the crime rate is the circumstance that facilitates illegal immigration.

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It is hardly possible to assume that any of the processes or phenomena can affect other unilaterally, without being subjected to the influence of another one. It should also be noted that at the study of the interaction of causes and conditions of crime and immigration, the latter is not differentiated. Features of varieties of immigration are not considered. Consequently, substantial variations of causes and conditions of different kinds and control measures are ignored. The overall conclusion that is present in the scientific literature is that immigration affects crime rates, thus influencing its causes and conditions, and can impact on the crime situation in the country. Nevertheless, despite the fact that costs of incarceration and illegal immigration for the crimes committed in the United States are substantial to taxpayers, it has no direct relation to the increase of crime committed by illegal immigrants. In the context of the question, it is necessary to investigate the interaction of causes and conditions of crime and immigration, which is explained by the laws of dialectics, logic, sociology, and other concepts.

Issues of Immigrants in the United States

Migration of the population is an objective socio-economic process, which is based on economic development and distribution of productive forces and the associated territorial redistribution of the population and labor force. Migratory behavior of people of different nationalities depends on the specific way of life, the level of education of ethnic groups, traditions, and the impact of various accumulated migration experiences. The changes in the behavioral activity of different social groups, including ethnic groups, in relation to illegal immigration has created a number of additional problems in criminogenic aspect for migrant-receiving cities. Uncontrolled migration of foreign nationals and their illegal stay in the country impairs social environment, favors the development of the shadow economy, creates an uncontrollable situation, and threats to the national labor market. By its nature, illegal immigration enters into close relations with the illegal business and, therefore, is connected to organized crime, which, in turn, is interested in the flow of immigrants as a source of substantial income. The high degree of uncontrolled criminal migration and its mobility does not give a possibility to respond to the crimes and conduct targeted prevention activities.
In the United States, there is a high percent of illegal immigrants. Their number is several times higher than the allowed quota of immigration policy indicators. Baker and Rytina (2012) state that Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America have the biggest number of illegal immigrants. 1.5 million out of 11.4 million entered the U.S. in January 2005 or later (Baker & Rytina, 2012). The problem in the country, which was formed and developed by immigrants, gained a new quality when it became apparent that the state was not able to integrate new flows of foreign nationals, and the U.S. government could not control the process.
Over the past few decades, the problem of illegal immigrants has reached alarming scale for American society. During election campaigns, candidates for president have promised to solve the problem of illegal immigration. However, under the influence of the logic of electoral cycles, provisional measures were offered instead of radical solutions. The complexity of the situation is explained by the fact that illegal immigrants create a range of problems in health and education sectors and law enforcement. Today, illegal immigrants are one of the main challenges for the U.S. government.
The attempts to take partial measures in this area, such as the amnesty of illegal immigrants, have short-term effect. Currently, federal, regional and local authorities of the United States need to resolve the issue of illegal immigrants in principle. The development of an effective set of measures that is aimed at solving this problem is extremely difficult due to excessive politicization of the problem, as well as the opposite attitude to this issue on the part of business and government. First of all, it is worth noting that the problem of illegal immigration lies at the intersection of oppositely directed interests of the state and business. For local, regional and federal authorities, the presence of illegal immigrants pours into a multimillion-dollar expenditure budget on work with them, keeping them in immigration centers and prisons, deportation, procedural costs, the costs of health care and education. In essence, illegal immigration is a source of poverty and low living standards.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), the number of criminal immigrants was about 55,000 in 2010 in federal prisons and 296,000 in state and local jails with the majority being Mexicans. The types of crimes varied. 65 percent of offenders were condemned for immigration offenses, 50 percent for drug offenses, and about 50 percent for traffic violations. Nuno states, that illegal immigrants were more likely to be arrested for property crimes and drug offenses.

Regulation of Migration Policy

Popular beliefs that immigrants are more responsible for increasing crimes than representatives of native population has influenced legislation and laws throughout the history of the United States. The federal government has repeatedly enacted laws and regulations, governing individual issues of immigration laws. Public beliefs of American population about connection of immigrants to crime “coincided with historically high rates of immigration”. These beliefs made a basis for justifying restrictive immigration policies. In particular, public belief connecting immigrants and high rates of alcohol use that was accompanied by the fear of crime contributed to the adoption of Prohibition, and Congressional acts. As a result, the number of immigrants reduced. “In between, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, concern about immigration and crime declined and nearly disappeared”.
Despite attempts of the government to resolve the issue of illegal immigration, Sarabia states that past immigration laws have only led to its increase. Particularly, the Immigartion and Nationality Act of 1965 removed quotas for immigrants and created restrictions on migrants’ admissions. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 consisted of three main components: legalization of undocumented migrants, who lived in America, employer sanctions, and the program that gave undocumented workers a possibility to apply for legalization. Although these laws regulated deportations, admissibility, and admissions, they did not provide means for adjusting immigrants’ status. Thus, the regulations and restrictions on immigration lead to an increase of undocumented immigrants in America. Moreover, Guerrette emphasizes that the efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1990’s caused the growth of deaths of illegal immigrants, because they tried to enter America using dangerous means.

Connection between Immigration and Crime

Illegal migration is part of the broader problem of the growing number of foreigners, who are illegally residing in the United States, which increases the burden on the economic and social resources, promotes the growth of anti-immigrant sentiment and crime in the society. Illegal migrants cause damage to the system of salaries and conditions of employment of legal workers, increasing the potential risk to health and safety. In addition, this kind of migration entails increasing the value and volume of some government social programs. The main reason for concern is signs of the link between illegal migration and drug trafficking, terrorist or extremist political organizations and other criminal groups. Often, the supply of drugs in the United States is associated with illegal migrants, who are traveling to the country. It is believed that some groups that specialize in drug trafficking include illegal immigrants in its membership. Many ethnic criminal organizations enter the country to carry out criminal activities that are related to high risk. Among other things, illegal migration leads to the violation of human rights. Most illegal migrants, who are willing to go to the United States in search of a better life and well-being, pay a lot of money for this opportunity. However, having no legal status, they are often subjected to abuse both during the journey and after the arrival to the destination country. Some illegal migrants die on the road from distress, unsanitary and unsafe conditions or because of abuse by smugglers. In the country, most of them do the hard work for little pay. In order to pay the huge debts to smugglers, they are forced to work in the underground industry. In some cases, the situation is unfolding in a way that the smugglers force immigrants to take part in the commission of other crimes. The growth of the total number of potential migrants in search of new economic opportunities, the tightening of conditions for legal migration to restrict the flow of incoming people, tighter immigration controls and border interdiction of illegal migrants led to substantial revenue growth of criminal groups, which make money on human smuggling.
Nevertheless, the problem of crime among migrants is one of the least studied and perhaps the most mythologized issues. Moreover, these myths live an independent life and, under certain circumstances, can influence the everyday consciousness in different ways: impose certain standards of thought and behavior, cause illusion and social stress, inspire horror picture of migrant groups, and other. The basis for this is supplied by different sources: media reports, eyewitnesses and victims, periodic bursts of politicization of crime problems of external migrants, problem’s ethnic component. Semantic context and emotional tone of these sources have wide amplitude from fixing attention to the individuals, disparate facts and ecstatic messages to aspirations to understand the situation, identify the causes and consequences.
At all times and in many countries mass migration caused a negative reaction of the indigenous population. The main reasons include different culture, religion and education level of migrants, as well as the fear of the local population to lose jobs and the fear of rising crime. Despite many researchers found that immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than American citizens, there are particular factors that can contribute to breaking the law among newly arrived migrants. They include unfamiliarity with the U.S. customs and laws that is compounded by the failure of immigrants’ knowledge of English.
Current decline of criminality among immigrants can be explained by the severity of the offenses and crimes punishment as well as the desire of the illegal migrants to avoid the additional attention from the authorities and law enforcement agencies. Those, who came to the United States in search of work and realization of the American dream, do not seek to violate its laws and attract attention. Although there are cases, when people, who are outside the system of state and legal control, fall under the dependence of national-ethnic crime syndicates and gangs, become carriers of drugs, commit different crimes, there is no direct effect of immigration on crime. Martin supports the opinion that illegal immigrants have no relation to the growth of crime rates, although there is an increase of costs of taxpayers that illegal immigration brings to the budget.
Nuno emphasizes that negative public perceptions and the general contention of illegal immigrants cause more crime. Ousey and Kubrin state, that there are three common reasons of crime among immigrants. They are immigration selection effects, formal social control, and social capital and family structure. Wang argues that the negative perception of immigrants is caused by poor economic conditions of minority’s neighborhoods that is measured by the percent of unemployed people.
The phenomenon of acculturation is more related to the crime growth in the United States than the process of immigration. Thus, the first generation of immigrants had lower rates of crime than the second generation that came to the United States as children. The crime rate among second-generation immigrants is growing, because the children of migrants are exposed to the same harmful effects of the world as American citizens. The other side of assimilation is that U.S.-born children of immigrants are not protected by the cultural traditions of their parents. Moreover, public negative attitude and perceptions that newly arrived immigrants are responsible for the rise of crime rates make the process of assimilation more difficult. In America, there is a strict law, and persons, who come into the country, value the opportunity to obtain a residence permit. In addition, they do not have enough social relations, including in the criminal environment. During assimilation, the acquisition of the status of citizen and establishing social bonds, they begin to commit crimes more intensively. In addition, Butcher and Piehl found that cities with the high percent of immigrant population had high crime rates, but, in fact, immigrants had no direct impact on the growth of crime rates.
High crime rates among immigrants are stereotypes that are imposed by popular culture and the media. Ethnic criminal groups are strong in conditions, when arrivals are fully isolated from the society and do not see the prospects of improving their situation because of restrictions on access to education and other social elevators. Thus, there is enough evidence to believe that immigration has no direct impact on increasing crime rates in the United States.

Possible Solutions

The reality is that today no country in the world can develop being fully isolated from the world community. Social and political, cultural and scientific, economic and military ties link all states without exception. At the same time, on the background of the development of society and state institutions, increase of exchange of resources, data, and technologies, there has been a steady, yearly increase in the flow of people crossing the borders with different purposes. Migration processes that occur in the society constitute a complex social phenomenon. The problem of their regulation has become one of the most urgent problems of the socio-political and economic development of nations. By becoming a daily reality of life, migration attracts growing attention through its links with both positive and negative processes (including crime).
The causes and conditions of migration and crime are often linked, and, therefore, require a comprehensive analysis with taking into account the specificity of different types of movement and criminal activities. It is necessary to take into account the above interaction in the development of control measures, and avoid one-sided consideration of the problem. It is crucial to change the approach to the regulation of responsibility both for illegal migration, and for certain crimes that are most often committed by immigrants. It seems that the establishment of an adequate punishment, clear regulation of the prohibited acts, the criteria for dividing administrative misconduct and criminal offenses in this sphere will not only affect the number of socially dangerous acts and promote the justified punishment with the consideration of the severity of specific acts, but also may be a factor that affects the conditions of illegal migration. There is a need to promote international cooperation in the fight against illegal migration. Specific legal acts must be complex and interrelated not only in content, but also in feasibility, the need to translate them into reality.
Immigration and crime are social phenomena, which are often caused by identical causes and conditions, and, therefore, require the interconnected control measures and impact. It is helpful to take into account the specifics of the particular type of migration and crime, the possible modification of their causes and conditions, the relevance of targeting to any sphere of the phenomena. In some situations, it is reasonable to strengthen regulation of migration processes. In other case, it can be useful to enhance the impact of the measures on the particular type of criminal activity. However, in general, it appears that the best result can be achieved by harmonious relationship between measures in both areas. The fight against illegal migrants must not contradict the principles of the democratic state.


Illegal immigration and its association with crime rates continue to plague the minds of the American people. In today’s world, migration that is caused by negative social phenomena such as ethnic discrimination, armed conflicts, extreme poverty, often becomes a factor of crime. The commission of crimes by newcomers is also often linked to their involvement in organized criminal activity. Indicators of criminality of migrants are closely related to the social welfare of the country and the region: its sharp increase is observed in periods of social crisis, so that migratory crime is beginning to have a significant impact on the overall crime situation.
The perceived fears have lasted throughout four major waves of immigration to the United States. Since the colonial time, there has been a major push to pass laws to bar admission to the United States due to the beliefs of public citizens. Despite this effort to pass laws, many illegal immigrants continue to attempt to cross the borders, even if it means risking their lives. However, the research has proven that contrary to the beliefs of the American people, there are only small amounts of illegal immigrants residing in America. Despite the fears of the American citizens that illegal immigrants commit more crimes, research indicates that illegal immigrants are actually underrepresented in relation to crime.

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