The Fallacy of the Dangerous Immigrant

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As a Hispanic immigrant from the Dominican Republic, this subject is especially important to me; the perception Americans have of Hispanics and immigrants effects the very nature of the relationship I have with my country of choice. Ron Unz of The American Conservative has a detailed statistical rundown of the nature of crime by Hispanics in the United States and damns the narrative by many, mainly conservatives, that immigrants are going to lead to the ruination of the country.

A few select quotes:

According to Lou Dobbs, “a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens,” and Glenn Beck regularly warns of “an illegal alien crime wave.” Congressman Tom Tancredo insists, “The face of illegal immigration on our borders is one of murder, one of drug smuggling, one of vandalism for all the communities along the border, and one of infiltration of people coming into this country for purposes to do us great harm.” Michelle Malkin adds an even more terrifying note, calling our borders “open channels not only for illegal aliens and drug smugglers, but terrorists, too.” Even as far back as 2000, the highly regarded General Social Survey found that 73 percent of Americans believed that immigration caused higher crime rates, a level of concern considerably greater than fears about job losses or social unity.

The high incarceration rate for these Caribbean Hispanics may partially explain general perceptions of Hispanic crime rates. A large proportion of America’s intellectual, media, and political elite lives in the Northeast, in cities like New York and Boston, and if the Hispanics traditionally living in those areas have unusually high rates of criminal activity, there would be a natural if mistaken tendency to assume that this same pattern also applied to Hispanic groups throughout the country.

…Moreover, if we consider weighted-average age-adjusted Hispanic imprisonment ratios excluding those outlying cases of the Northeastern states, we discover that the remaining figure moves into close parity with white incarceration rates. (See Chart 4.) Since Hispanics are still considerably poorer than whites, this is a striking result. Also, crime rates are always higher in densely populated urban areas than in suburbs or rural communities, and since Hispanics are three times as likely as whites to live in cities, their relatively low imprisonment rates become even more surprising.

…Another important question is to what degree Hispanic criminal activity is influenced by immigration status. While there is a widespread popular impression that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, have a propensity for violent crime, actual studies almost invariably come to the opposite conclusion: for almost every ethnic group, Hispanic or otherwise, immigrant generations have lower rates of criminal behavior than their American-born children. This has resulted in concerned speculation that even if Hispanic crime rates today are relatively low, this situation may be temporary, and once the Hispanic population shifts from being mostly immigrant to mostly native-born, crime rates might skyrocket. A 2006 Migration Policy Institute study estimated that imprisonment rates are some eight times higher for American-born citizens of Mexican ancestry than for their immigrant co-ethnics.6 If we can expect Mexican-American crime rates to rise 700 percent in the next generation, we should be very alarmed indeed.

But there are good reasons to doubt the plausibility of that horrific scenario. First, contrary to popular belief, the majority of today’s Hispanics are already American-born, and this is certainly true of those in the highest-crime age groups. For example, two-thirds of today’s Latinos aged 18-24 are American citizens by birth. This figure has risen from less than half 20 years ago, while crime rates have simultaneously plummeted nationwide, with relative Hispanic imprisonment rates also dropping significantly since 2000. If American-born Mexicans and Central Americans had the exceptionally high crime rates suggested in that 2006 study, it is strange that we have seen no evidence of this either in the trends of national crime data or in imprisonment statistics.

…Admittedly, all of the arguments presented here are somewhat statistical and circumstantial. Correlation does not prove causality, and it might be possible to come up with a complex and detailed set of ad hoc theories and counter-arguments to explain away the vast mass of apparent evidence indicating relatively low Hispanic crime rates. But such an approach places the burden of proof on the wrong side.

The evidence presented here powerfully refutes the widespread popular belief that America’s Hispanics have high crime rates. Instead, their criminality seems to fall near the center of the white national distribution, being somewhat higher than white New Englanders but somewhat lower than white Southerners. Taken as a whole, the mass of statistical evidence constitutes strong support for the “null hypothesis,” namely that Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age.

The whole thing deserves to be read, especially by anyone who has a preconceived notion Hispanics, especially immigrants, are more dangerous and violent than their American, white peers.

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