Anti-immigration paranoia is just another form of racism

I have an intuition that immigrants, contrary to Republican rhetoric, are going to be more law-abiding than those who take their citizenship for granted — I think if I were living in a foreign country, one where I was less confident about my rights, I’d be more cautious about breaking laws. That would be especially true if I were in a country where the police had a reputation for brutality.

But that’s just my feelings on the issue. Apparently a lot of Americans think the people who move here to do hard, menial labor in the farm fields or the poultry sheds are more prone to be criminals. If only there were objective studies of immigrants and crime rates…oh, there are? And there are no crime waves fueled by illegal immigrants? Gosh, I guess it’s nice to have one’s subjective opinions confirmed.

Now, four academic studies show that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. In the slew of research, motivated by Trump’s rhetoric, social scientists set out to answer this question: Are undocumented immigrants more likely to break the law?

Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades caused a commensurate jump in violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

“Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period,” Light said in a phone interview.

You can read summaries of the other studies at the link. They all say the same thing: the myth of the predatory, criminal immigrant is imaginary.

But of course they also have to find a contrary view.

Ed Dykes, a local electrical engineer, says a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant is one too many.

“It’s actually immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not because they commit additional crimes,” Dykes says. “They are crimes that would not be committed. There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [unauthorized immigrants] were not in this country.”

So they found a guy with zero qualifications and no expertise at all in the sociology of immigration, and he disagrees. That’s about as relevant as my subjective opinions on immigrants. I do find something interesting about his comment, though: it’s a refocusing of the problem to concerns about individual crimes, rather than the aggregate behavior of a particular group. I think that is a valid perspective. We should be seeing this situation through the eyes of the individual victim and the individual criminal, because that’s how we address the breaking of laws, by trying the individual lawbreaker. That does say, though, that Ed ought not to be policing classes of people if he’s only concerned about individual acts.

Of course, from that perspective, there are more American citizens who’d be alive today if other American citizens had been properly investigated by law enforcement, rather than the law haring off after innocent people who happened to be brown-skinned, a fact irrelevant to the crime. It’s also a confusing argument to say it’s immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not — because if you replace a population having a certain frequency of crime with a different population that has a lower frequency, you will see fewer crimes committed.

Maybe Ed ought to stick to electrical engineering.


  1. zetopan says

    “Maybe Ed ought to stick to electrical engineering.”
    The odds are that he is incompetent at that as well (I am quite familiar with that particular field).

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I hate this type of “absolutism” [sic]. Where finding a single instance is argument for excluding future possibility. IE a single undocumented immigrant committed a single crime, therefore all undocumented must be banned. Never mind all the many instances of undocumented doing productive actions who would also be thwarted by such a ban.
    Talk about “narrow minded”

  3. gijoel says

    I think Ed is worried that illegal immigrants are taking away criminal jobs from American criminals.

  4. A. Noyd says

    On the other hand, it doesn’t get much more American than showing up uninvited to someone else’s space and then murdering them.

  5. blf says

    There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [unauthorized immigrants] were not in this country.

    There are people who be alive today if the USAnnihilate!Annihilate!Annihilate! military did not exist. Or the policegoons. Or, for that matter, walruses.

  6. starfleetdude says

    These points I noted elsewhere online I think are worth passing along in any discussion about immigration and illegal immigration:

    1. In 1976, Congress set equal per‐country caps for all countries in the world, meaning that that families from high‐immigration countries—such as India and Mexico—must wait disproportionately longer than families from low‐demand countries, say Iceland and Belgium.

    2. As the article points out, the current visa allocation system leaves few visas for less‐skilled workers. The number of green cards for less‐skilled workers—hotel workers, landscapers, and construction workers—is limited to just 5,000 for the entire US. These jobs are most associated with unauthorized immigration.

    3. Employers in agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and other service‐sector jobs can’t fill positions with domestic labor in many markets. There are 140,000 employment‐based green cards available, a number set years ago by Congress, without regard to real labor‐market needs or current economic realities.

    4. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act bars admission to the US for individuals who have been unlawfully present in the country for any period of time. Because of the law’s inflexibility and the delays in getting new visas, the immigrants in the United States remain here illegally rather than risk being separated from family members for three years, ten years, or even permanently.

    Current U.S. law about immigration is, frankly, a mess. Obama’s Dreamers proposal was done to deal with the consequences of a policy that’s dysfunctional.

  7. says

    Even before you got there, I already had in my head the refrain, “Even one murder is too many!”

    Funny how that kind of threshold never comes up when it comes to gun crimes. 10,000 murders and 20,000 suicides by gun (and greatly non-lethal shootings) are reasonable numbers.

  8. says

    Apparently, whether it’s for international or domestic carnage, the NRA is in charge of everything, and they hold power by dispensing the threat of nonwhites walking around like they own [this/that/any] place.

  9. Mobius says

    Re: Ed Dykes

    Perhaps Dykes should consider that one crime committed by an electrical engineer is one too many and that all electrical engineers should by deported. [/sarcasm]

  10. bobmunck says

    John Doe, a local undocumented immigrant, says a crime committed by an electrical engineer is one too many.

    “It’s actually immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not because they commit additional crimes,” Doe says. “They are crimes that would not be committed. There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [electrical engineers] were not in this country.”

    Our more prestigious EE departments have much to answer for.

  11. says

    Doesn’t Dykes realize that more crimes are committed by blue-eyed people than by immigrants? If we just deported or jailed all of the blue-eyed people, I mean… please, think of the CHILDREN.

    And I say this as a blue-eyed holder of a bachelors in electrical engineering. I feel so ashamed. I may have to start self-deportation proceedings. Mitt? Oh, Mitt? A little assistance, please?

  12. unclefrogy says

    I am getting old and i have had to listen to these types of arguments crime-immigration race poverty all my f*******G life they have not changed at all. They are just as irrational now as they were back in 1954 when we were “forced” to start integrating our schools and neighborhoods.
    When people are made to fear a crime wave whether there is one or not there is always a scapegoat when crime stats go down there is always some blowhard spouting hard-ass language taking credit.
    at no time does anyone seriously take a look at what is actually going on and try and see why . no thought about fixing anything outside the use of some kind of force. makes me think that we do not really want any solution to the problems the disturb the peaceful functioning of society at all, we seem to prefer the sick dysfunctional way because we made it. Rational argument does not seem to work very well but it is the only really reliable tool we have that can’t be easily high-jacked by the greedy amoral power seekers.
    our would be lords and masters.

    uncle frogy
    uncle frogy

  13. says

    Even more American citizen’s would be alive today if USA had sensible and enforced gun laws. Somehow I do not think Mr. Ed Dykes would appreciate that point.

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The city I live in (somewhere in Chiwaukee, the strip along the Lake Michigan shore between Chicago and Milwaukee), now has a “minority” majority. Most new businesses are minority owned, have foreign sounding names, and are contributing to the local economy. You want a roofer, yard service, or restaurant, that doesn’t have a significant number of minority employees or owners, forget it. The “illegals” are the ones making the local economy work. Viva the “undocumented”. *Cheers*

  15. Zeppelin says

    “There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [unauthorized immigrants] were not in this country”

    If we accept that those immigrants are just inherently criminal somehow, surely they would have just murdered people somewhere else if they’d been kept out of the US. So you wouldn’t actually be saving lives, you’d just be trading foreign lives for American lives. Unless we’re now openly admitting the premise that American lives are worth more, I don’t see how keeping out these hypothetical murderous immigrants is improving the world in any way.

  16. Richard Smith says

    So far, we’ve had the expert opinions of Joe the Plumber, and Ed the Electrical Engineer, not to mention Don the Dubious Real Estate Mogul. Is the next expert going to be a butcher, perhaps, or a baker, or even possibly a chandler?

  17. unclefrogy says

    that a ship chandler?
    there use to be a baseball player a catcher by position who always had the right answer too bad he is gone.
    uncle frogy

  18. lumipuna says

    If you think about it cynically, mathematically and simplistically, all other people are potential murderers – but they are also potential targets a murderer might attack instead of *you*. The US has 60 times my country’s population but that doesn’t automatically mean your individual risk of being murdered is 60 times higher just because you live in a large country with many people.

    If immigrants are equally likely to be murderers compared to native born people, immigration will not affect the latter’s risk, assuming random selection of targets. If they’re less likely to be murderers, their presence would actually protect native born people.

    In short, people are problem, and solution.

  19. says

    Cartomancer @ sixes and sevens, I mean eights:

    You had me confused for a moment, “Bloody Greeks and Syrians” is so much more relevant than “Don’t wish for something: you might get it”!


  20. cherbear says

    Illegal immigration is a red herring. What they really don’t like are more brown people.