This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants and the Crime Rate

The New York Times has a story today suggesting that crime rates along the border have decreased along with the drop in the number of people attempting to cross the border without documents. The story focuses almost exclusively on the situation in Arizona, the state that was among the first to "get tough" on undocumented immigrants. However, as Rubén Rumbaut and Walter Ewing have shown, undocumented immigrants themselves--the ones who come to the US to work--are less likely to commit crimes than are US natives. Typically their only crime (and it is a misdemeanor, not a felony) is to be in the US without documentation. When they are arrested for that crime, they wind up in jail until being deported and that is an expense that goes down as the number of undocumented immigrants goes down.

The reality, though, is that the major sources of crime associated with undocumented immigrants does not come from people coming here to work and then doing something like robbing Americans at gunpoint. Rather, crime is associated with smuggling people and drugs. The smuggling of people has become big business largely because of the increased border enforcement that makes it harder and more expensive for people to enter the country. Those people smugglers (the coyotes) are much more likely than the immigrants themselves to be committing crimes. The second source of crime, alluded to in the NY Times article, is drugs. As long as there are drug users in the US where the activity is illegal, and producers in Latin America ready to supply the need, there will be a big business in smuggling drugs. Even Evangelist Pat Robertson understands that the US would be a safer place if at least marijuana were legalized, and Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has supported throughout his presidential campaign the full legalization of drugs in order to better take control of the market and, of course, provide a source of tax revenue. 

So, we need to keep border violence and crime in perspective. It is much less related to undocumented immigrants per se, than it is to US government policies (border enforcement and the war on drugs) that have created crime where little used to exist.

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