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December 10, 2006

Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?

By Eyal Press, New York Times Magazine, Published: December 3, 2006;

"Although the midterm election failed to render a clear verdict on illegal immigration, the new Democratic Congress may enact sweeping legislation tightening border controls and allowing more guest workers next year. If that happens, the rancorous debate about how undocumented workers affect jobs and wages in the United States will be rejoined. So, too, will an equally rancorous, if less prominent, debate: Do immigrants make the U.S. more crime-ridden and dangerous?
In an age of Latino gangs and Chinese criminal networks, the notion that communities with growing immigrant populations tend to be unsafe is fairly well established, at least in the popular imagination. In a national survey conducted in 2000, 73 percent of Americans said they believe that immigrants are either “somewhat” or “very” likely to increase crime, higher than the 60 percent who fear they are “likely to cause Americans to lose jobs.” Cities like Avon Park, Fla., have considered ordinances recently to dissuade businesses from hiring illegal immigrants, whose presence “destroys our neighborhoods.” Even President Bush, whose perceived generosity to undocumented workers has earned him vilification on the right, commented in a speech this May that illegal immigration “strains state and local budgets and brings crime to our communities.”

So goes the conventional wisdom. But is it true? In fact, according to evidence cropping up in various places, the opposite may be the case. Ramiro Martinez Jr., a professor of criminal justice at Florida International University, has sifted through homicide records in border cities like San Diego and El Paso, both heavily populated by Mexican immigrants, both places where violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years. “Almost without exception,” he told me, “I’ve discovered that the homicide rate for Hispanics was lower than for other groups, even though their poverty rate was very high, if not the highest, in these metropolitan areas.” He found the same thing in the Haitian neighborhoods of Miami. In his book “New York Murder Mystery,” the criminologist Andrew Karmen examined the trend in New York City and likewise found that the “disproportionately youthful, male and poor immigrants” who arrived during the 1980s and 1990s “were surprisingly law-abiding” and that their settlement into once-decaying neighborhoods helped “put a brake on spiraling crime rates.”

The most prominent advocate of the “more immigrants, less crime” theory is Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard. A year ago, Sampson was an author of an article in The American Journal of Public Health that reported the findings of a detailed study of crime in Chicago. Based on information gathered on the perpetrators of more than 3,000 violent acts committed between 1995 and 2002, supplemented by police records and community surveys, it found that the rate of violence among Mexican-Americans was significantly lower than among both non-Hispanic whites and blacks...".

Eyal Press, a contributing writer for The Nation, is the author of “Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City and the Conflict That Divided America.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/magazine/03wwln_idealab.html?ei=5070&en=a570b358a51977fd&ex=1165899600&emc=eta1&pagewanted=all

Posted by VisaLawyer at December 10, 2006 07:17 AM

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