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Immigration and Crime

- June 27, 2008

This New York Times article discusses the current politics of immigration in Italy — in particular, new measures to crack down on illegal immigrants, who are believed to increase the crime rate. In a 2002 survey, respondents in Italy and 19 other European nations were asked whether immigration tended to improve or worsen crime. In a 2005 survey, this same item was asked of an American sample. Respondents gave their answers along a 0-10 scale. Here are the percent who gave an answer on the “worsen crime” side of the scale:

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In almost every country, a majority of respondents believed that immigrants worsened crime. Interestingly, both Americans and Italians were less likely to say this than were respondents in most other nations. Forty-eight percent of Americans said that immigration worsened crime, as did 61% of Italians. These surveys also asked about the consequences of immigration for the government revenue and services and for national culture. On average, respondents were more concerned about the consequences for crime than for these other areas. Jack Citrin and I discuss these and other results in this paper.

The measures recently proposed in Italy have garnered the support of a majority of Italians:

bq. Do you support or oppose each of these measures?

bq. Allowing citizens from other EU countries to stay in Italy for more than three months only if they have enough income and inform the authorities of their whereabouts, and provide their name and address: 63% support.

bq. Expropriating the houses that are rented to illegal immigrants: 58% support.

bq. Allowing immigrants to reunite with their relatives only after a DNA test has been performed: 56% support.

More survey data are here (US only) and here (US and abroad).

Here is a study by Rubén G. Rumbaut and colleagues about crime among immigrants in the United States. One of its findings is this:

bq. The finding that incarceration rates are much lower among immigrant men than the national norm, despite their lower levels of education and greater poverty, but increase significantly over time in the United States for those who arrived as children and especially among the second generation, suggests that the process of “Americanization” can lead to downward mobility and greater risk of involvement with the criminal justice system for a significant minority of this population.