by Martin Andresen
GUEST BLOG: Martin Andresen is associate professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He is Chair of the Crime and Place Working Group at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy and an associate editor at the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. Martin recently joined the SafeGrowth Network and offers this guest blog, our first blog of the new decade.
Over the last several years there has been a lot of debate about the link between immigration and crime. Do immigrants commit crime? Yes, but so do a lot of people! This is not the right question to ask because what really matters is: Do immigrants commit more crimes than those born in the country? With so much news linking immigration to crime, it is not a surprise that many people believe that it is true. But is it?
Research over the past 20-30 years provides a definitive answer – No!
In fact, research often demonstrates that immigrant populations commit fewer crimes. If this is the case, why does the myth persist?
IMMIGRATION A CENTURY AGO
At the turn of the 20th century, most immigrants to North America were poor or had very few resources. They moved into poorer areas of cities, areas with higher rates of crime. Criminologists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay wrote about this phenomenon decades ago in one of the most famous studies in criminology: Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas.
Shaw and McKay found that when immigrants had the means to move into better (more stable) neighbourhoods, they also committed less crime. As such, immigrants changed their behaviour based on where they lived: it wasn’t that people (the immigrants) were related to crime, it was that places tended to produce crime.
ARE IMMIGRANTS CRIME-PRONE?
Recent studies also show that immigrant populations are no more prone to crime than those who are born in the country. Some researchers suggest that there are two explanations for this: immigrant revitalization and ethnic enclaves.
Immigrant revitalization refers to immigrant populations moving into those same poorer areas described above. Ethnic enclaves are places with concentrations of immigrant populations from the same region of the world who shared a common set of language and culture – immigrant groups have been doing this for over 100 years. Rather than moving out of those areas, these populations are revitalizing them, making them places where people want to live. Most immigrants move to a new country for a better life and often create better places as a result.
What is really going on with immigration and crime? As immigrants move into an area, they develop relationships with people and attachment to places. Over time, these areas become neighbourhoods. And once people come together to build something, why would they partake in activities to destroy it?