Latino Criminalization. Illegal Immigration and Crime in the US

Academic Paper, 2016

20 Pages, Grade: 10.0




Literature Review

Empirical Data - Research

Theory in Place

Policy Implications and Concluding Remarks



This research paper examines the relationship of undocumented Latinos to crime in the United States; an old ideology of Americans seen Latinos as criminals. Many empirical studies in the past years argued that undocumented immigrants have been a reason in the decrease in crime rates over the past forty years. Communities with a high number of undocumented immigrants tend to have very low crime rates compared to those of native-born Americans. Already deteriorated neighborhoods, where undocumented newcomers establish their homes, shows a significant decrease in crime. Both the spur of immigration and the decrease in crime rates have run parallel to each other since the 1980s. However, in the last decade, a mass incarceration of undocumented Latinos was found in the U.S. corrections system due to an overwhelming target of minority groups and tough legislations passed by the U.S. government.

Literature Review

The United States have always been known as a country that “accept” all kinds of immigrants from anywhere in the world. However, the American society has a well-known history of segregation laws – such as Jim Crow – not only against Blacks, but also against all types of immigrants. Since the beginning of the Chicago School of thought – best known for its urban sociology – where many sociologists tried to link crime and immigration (e.g., Sutherland 1934; Shawn and McKay 1942), Americans inherited a tradition that portrays the immigrant, especially the undocumented immigrant, as a criminal (MacDonald, Hipp, and Gill 2012). Notwithstanding, our society progressed with the same old ideas from the past. To break this ideology, this research aims to review the literature on immigrant criminalization, by looking at both sides of the problem, and concluding that in fact, immigrants have a relatively low crime rate.

Issues regarding the effect immigrants cause in deteriorated neighborhood, the conditions created when family ties broke because of incarceration, and we will address the costs of illegal immigration for society while analyzing the work of different scholars. To begin with, the work of Omar Sánchez, Susana Mendes, and Roberto J. Velasquez (2015), The Psychological Impact of the Mass Incarceration of Non-Citizens Latinos/as in the United States: A Transborder Mental Health Perspective and Guidelines.

One of the main problems immigrants face when they come illegally to the United States is the danger of being caught by border patrols. Most of them have no earlier experience with the criminal justice system in their country of origin, but then if apprehended by law enforcement agents, they are then labeled criminals, one who violated the law and must pay for its crimes. “Latinos, like African-Americans, are now one of the most incarcerated of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States” (Sanchez et al., 2015). Unfortunately, the problem of sending these non-violent “criminals” to a place where they interact with real violent offenders, does not only affects the offender but as well as his family, and the community where he comes from. (2015).

“Restum examined the types of crimes that Latinos/as…were incarcerated for in the year 2000 and concluded…that 84 percent of all prison admissions were for non-violent crimes” (Sánchez et al., 2015). The 2011 report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) predicted that in the year 2020 the population of Latinos in the United States will be of 66 million, from those, 1.7 million will be in prison, most for non-serious petty crimes. Figure 1 shows the different types of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants that resulted in deportation.

Figure 2: Removals by Crime Category, FY 2013

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: John F. Simanski, Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2014 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 2014).

John MacDonald, Hipp and Gill (2012) sustains the extent to which immigrant concentration is associated with reductions in neighborhood crime rates in their empirical research names, The Effects of Immigrant Concentration on Changes in Neighborhood Crime Rates. The result of his research indicated that communities with a high number of immigrants are less prone to crime when compared to communities of native-born Americans. “We find that higher concentration of immigrants is linked to greater than expected reductions in total reported index crimes and violent crimes” (MacDonald et al. 2012). They further explain that even though most immigrants settle in low-income communities with high rates of crime, they are less prone to engage in deviant behavior.

To avoid bias, MacDonald’s et al. (2012) research concentrated in immigrants who lived in deteriorated neighborhoods and not neighborhoods where other co-ethnics shared similar incentives. “Such process would bias findings toward lower crime rates that are simply an artifact of segment assimilation” (MacDonald et al., 2012). They also imply that the next step would be to clearly understand the causes that make immigrants lower the crime rates in those communities. Two principles can explain such; (1) most immigrants come to the U.S. with the aim to offer a better life for their families, thus, they prioritize work and have little time to engage in deviant behavior; and (2) most undocumented immigrants try to avoid any possible contact with law enforcement, failing to report when they are victims of crime.

In the opposite side is Jerome Blondell (2008), who published his research called, Adverse Impacts of Massive and Illegal Immigration in the United States, arguing that illegal immigrants negatively affect the economy and help to rise the poverty line in the United States. “The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform fiscal cost studies for nine states estimate net costs ranging from $122 to $1,183 per native household based on expenses such as education…and incarceration” (Blondell, 2008). Blondell further explains that for tax revenues, undocumented immigrants do not generate enough to offset the amount the government serves them.

When it comes to crime, all undocumented immigrants break the law at some point in their lives, either by entering the country illegally or over staying their visa period. In addition, many commit crimes such as identity theft, working illegally, driving without a license, and not paying taxes. According to Blondell, there is also the issue of infectious diseases those who enter the country illegally bring with them. “Contagious diseases that have largely disappeared in the United States, such as tuberculosis, malaria…and dengue fever have begun to recur” (2008).

After reviewing the literature, we can argue that even though the statements suggested by Jerome Blondell (2008) might be somehow robust, it fails to reinforce the idea of seeing either the undocumented or documented immigrant as a criminal. The stereotyped mass incarceration of immigrants, mainly Latinos, needs closer attention. Even though many don’t recognize it as a social problem, the problem does exist. And it only gets worse if we continue to follow an ideology that should never have existed among us. Most immigrants, either legal or illegal, have contributed to the progress of this country. There is no doubt that there are some pitfalls, but we need be careful when pointing out fingers to the entire Latino community. Labeling all immigrants criminals, as our current President Donald Trump have done, only deepens to social inequality and alienation among minority groups.

Empirical Data - Research

Since the 1980s, America has experienced a precipitous decrease in violent crime rates. During the same period, a massive number of Hispanic immigrants settled in the United States, reaching record numbers in 2015 totaling 57 million according to the last research done by the Pew Research Center. Since the 1980s, both trends (crime and migration) moved in opposite directions as crime rates continue to drop and the immigration continues to rise. Such phenomenon caught attention of many researchers and scholars, linking one to the other. However, those who are against illegal immigration argues that the literature remains weak and undocumented aliens continued to be a threat to the nation.

During the early 1990s we saw the beginning of many “Jim Crow-like” statutes aiming not only at Latinos but also at other ethnic groups. Welch (2003) notes that anti-immigrant attitudes emerged in some key states spreading really fast throughout the country. California such as, enacted the Proposition 187, which was highly supported by Americans and politicians. Such laws denied most civil rights and services to anyone who was not a citizen or acquired legal status. Services included the right to attend college, health services, and the right to work and get a driver’s license. Even some of the U.S. Constitutional Rights were also denied to illegal aliens.

When it comes to public opinion, Americans have mixed views. According to Wang (2012), a national survey conducted in 2000 showed that 73 percent of Americans believed Latino immigrants contributed to crime, however, that has been changing. The Pew Hispanic shows that Americans still mistrustful of Hispanics but many changed their opinion. The research points out that 50 percent of Americans believe Latinos make the economy worse, while 28 percent believe they make it better, and 20 percent says there is no effect at all. Regarding crime rates, 50 percent still believe Latinos cause crime, 7 percent says they decrease crime, and 41 percent says there is no effect. About 51 percent of Americans see Hispanic immigrants as a strength for the country, opposed to 41 percent who sees them as a burden. (Pew Hispanic, 2015).

Such perceptions urged many researchers such as sociologist Robert Sampson, MacDonald and Sanders to conduct empirical researches to show the relationship between immigrants and crime, and how foreign-born are less prone to crime than native-born. In his 2015 Immigration and America’s Urban Revival article, Sampson explains how legal and illegal immigration has helped reduce crime and revitalize the economy of major cities, which also contributed to the growth of suburban cities as well. Sampson states, “immigrants have gravitated to many of the urban areas that were most distressed 40 years ago and have contributed to their economic revival” (2015). The main reason immigrants migrate to the United States is to seek a better life and support their families; these are “characteristics that predispose them to low crime, such as motivation to work and ambition” (Sampson 2015).

Another reason that supports Sampson’s idea is that those who are first generation immigrants – born outside the U.S. – are afraid of being involved with law enforcement, which in most occasions result in deportation. Such issue would destroy their dream for a better life and a better future for their children. Sampson explains that “first generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than second generation immigrants” (2015), followed by 22 percent for third generation immigrants. In other words, the more “Americanized” each generation become, the bigger the chance for them to engage in deviant behavior.

The drop on crime we witness in the last few decades can also be linked to many other factors. Among all possibilities are the decline in crack use during the 1990s, better economy, and an increase in incarceration due to more aggressive policing. All these factors may have contributed to the drop in crime rate, but the evidence brought up by Sampson and his colleagues are much more convincing than any other. The most obvious changes were in cities that are “magnets” for immigration, such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. New York for example, “had for a decade already ranked as one of America’s safest major cities” (Sampson, 2015). These cities not only had an increase on immigration by 50 percent, but it also dropped the crime rates drastically.

The neighborhood is also another cause that helps explain the positive impact undocumented Latinos have on crime. Usually newly arrival immigrants tend to settle in more disadvantaged neighborhoods, where they find affordable rent and poverty rates are higher. Such communities also tend to have higher crime rates, but evidence was found that high number of immigrants in fact help reduce crime in these communities. MacDonald et al. found that “the biggest predicted reductions in crime occurred in areas of concentrated poverty…and that immigrants are not merely a replacement population as part of a natural ecological process” (2012). In other words, the new immigrant shapes the type of neighborhood they meet.

This change in neighborhoods caused by immigrants is what Sampson (2015) refers to as the revitalization writ at large. “As Jacob Vigdor has recently shown, immigration to New York City is linked to population growth, lower rates of vacant and abandoned buildings, and economic revitalization” (Sampson, 2015). Places used before for drug addicts and many other criminal activities are now used by a mass number of immigrants that arrived in the city, it increased the city’s economy and bettered the life of other ethnic groups as well. The “broken windows” theory proposed by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, asserts this same idea that deteriorated neighborhoods attract crime. Disorder and incivility within a community helps to increase the rate of serious crime.

Beyond many reasons that make legal and illegal immigrants less crime prone is the fact of work and ambition. As mentioned before, Sampson argued that the ambition to work and offer a better future for their family is one thing that highly influences immigrants to not become criminals. Walter A. Ewing and his colleagues – Martínez and Rumbaut – imply the same idea; “immigrants as a group tend to be highly motivated, goal-driven individuals who have little to gain by running afoul of the law” (2015). They have good reasons to stay out of trouble and not get involved with the criminal justice system. Thus, the fear of being deported is another deterrence of crime.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Latino Criminalization. Illegal Immigration and Crime in the US
Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - Newark  (School of Criminal Justice)
Racial, Ethnic and Religious Diversity and Public Policy in America
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
race, ethnicity, religion, crime, illegal immigration, latino
Quote paper
Demetrius Goncalves (Author), 2016, Latino Criminalization. Illegal Immigration and Crime in the US, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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