Myth vs. Fact: Immigrants and Crime

A common refrain from those wanting to restricting immigration is to equate immigrants with crime.

While there is no question that since immigrants are humans, some immigrants commit crimes, we should no more conclude from that that immigrants have a propensity for criminality any more than we conclude that all white males are inclined to criminality because some white males are criminals.

Instead, we should look to data.  What does the data say?   Repeated studies have found that both undocumented and legal immigrants tend to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born U.S. citizens, and that areas that have experienced increases in their immigrant populations have seen corresponding decreases in overall crime rates.

Here is a survey of some of the studies that debunk the myths linking immigrants and crimes.


  • The Marshall Project examined in a May 2019 report whether there is a link between undocumented immigration and an increase in crime, and found that “growth in illegal immigration does not lead to higher local crime rates.”


  • Most states don’t record the immigration status of those convicted of crimes, but Texas does.   For that reason, the Cato Institute looked at Texas data when assessing whether there is a correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime.   Texas was also a prime study subject since it has one of the highest proportions of immigrants of any state in the U.S., at 17% of the state’s population.    The Cato institute reported that both legal and undocumented immigrants commit crimes, including violent crimes, at rates lower than native-born Texas residents.   As Cato’s commentary on its research notes;

Even in a Republican-governed border state like Texas with law enforcement officials very concerned about illegal immigration — and with a reputation for enforcing criminal laws to the hilt — illegal immigrants appear less crime-prone than natives.


  • A paper published in the May 2017 edition of Criminology found that increases in the size of the undocumented population do not increase violence and instead tend to correspond to decreased violent crime rates in communities.


  • A 2017 study looking at data from 1990-2014 in the American Journal of Public Health found that “Increased undocumented immigration was significantly associated with reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests, net of other factors. There was no significant relationship between increased undocumented immigration and DUI deaths.”


  •  A 2014 study in the Journal of Law and Economics, concludes that in communities where law enforcement officials notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about all persons arrested, there is no meaningful reduction in overall or violent crime rates in those communities.  This finding correlates to overall data finding that native born citizens are responsible for most crimes committed.