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Tuesday, February 27, 2007|
Study: Immigrant crime rate low
UCI study says immigrants less likely commit crimes than native-born Americans.
By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register
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IRVINE – Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, according to a study released Monday by a UC Irvine professor for the Immigration Policy Center, based in Washington D.C.
UCI sociology professor Ruben Rumbaut found that immigrants of all national backgrounds were incarcerated at much lower rates than their American-born counterparts, according to the 2000 Census. The numbers applied to both legal and illegal immigrants.
His study also described a precipitous drop in crime rates nationwide throughout recent years – a period during which immigration has been at all-time record high. "While immigration is going up, crime is going down," Rumbaut said. "I think it's important to get the facts out there."
"Even as the undocumented population has doubled to 12 million since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent," according to the report.
That crime drop was true even in cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles or Miami, the report said. Orange County was not studied specifically.
According to the study, 3.5 percent of American-born men aged 18 to 39 were incarcerated in jails or prisons in 2000, compared to 0.7 percent of foreign-born men – five times higher.
The risk of incarceration went up significantly by the second or third generations of immigrants, according to the study.
John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on immigration reform, disputed the results of the study and said census data for incarcerated and other institutionalized people were flawed in 2000.
Keeley added that migrant communities tend to underreport crimes and that all immigrant criminals might not be in jail.
Keeley also said that the children of immigrants posed a crime problem not considered in the statistics.
"That is something we intend to monitor in terms of gang activity and truancy," Keeley said.
Rumbaut co-authored the study with Harvard University professor Walter A. Ewing.
They reported that "the impression that immigration and criminality are linked" is a myth fueled by political expediency and groups with outside agendas.
Rumbaut said politicians frequently exploit fears about immigrant crime for their own purposes – or pander to uninformed voters. While immigrants may underreport crimes, the data still holds true for homicides and other crimes that are fully reported, he said.
"There has been a Mount Everest of data going back 100 years that indicates immigrants have a low crime rate," Rumbaut said.