Criminal Aspects of Immigration

Criminal Aspects of Immigration

Citizens in many countries have been concerned, in the history, with crime, and worry that they will be victimized by immigrants. The concern is based on the belief that foreign-born individuals are members of a criminal class who threaten community cohesion by committing a disproportionately large number of violent and property crimes. Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, and assault. Property crimes include theft and fraud. Some offenses are crimes of habitation that involve threats against a person and their property (for example, burglary). According to Fox News (2015): “Statistics show the estimated 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. account for 13.6 percent of all offenders sentenced for crimes committed in the U.S. Twelve percent of murder sentences, 20 percent of kidnapping sentences and 16 percent of drug trafficking sentences are meted out to illegal immigrants.” [1]

Crime Statistics and Social Patterns

It is important when looking at crime statistics to consider numbers, rates, population counts, and types of crime and victimization reported or underreported. Social, cultural, and political changes can affect legal definitions of crime, sentencing lengths, and crime reporting patterns.

Social Disorganization, and Social Control

When crime rates rise, criminologists attempt to explain them with community and neighborhood factors. Early 20th century social disorganization theory suggested that crime was the result of a criminogenic foreign-born class who experienced the effects of strain and economic deprivation. Social disorganization has continued to serve as an explanation for crime in socially diverse neighborhoods.

Violent Crime and Immigration

Some people, in many countries, are concerned that immigrants are violent and engaged in particular types of violent crime. However, there is not a relationship between violent crime and immigration. In most cases, foreign-born persons were not responsible for the communities’ drug and violent crime.

Illegal Immigration and Crime

While there is no connection between immigration and increases in crime, in many countries, citizens believe that immigrants are dangerous. Some immigration policies, in a number of jurisdictions, do not distinguish clearly between the act of being an undocumented immigrant, which is (only) illegal, and crimes committed by immigrants.

Undocumented Immigrant

Immigration law violations take place, in many jurisdictions, when foreign-born persons overstays their visa or permit, or when foreign-born persons enters surreptitiously the territory of a country.

Crime Victimization and Immigration

In many western nations, immigrants may be less likely to report victimization to the police in the United States for a variety of reasons: language barriers, fear of the police, and fear of deportation.

Immigration, Interpersonal Violence, and Gender Victimization

Workplace Victimization


Many refugees want to start a new life in the western nations to escape from the ordeals that they experience in their homelands: torture, war, and persecutions due to their race, ethnicity, religion, and political orientation. Instability in North Africa and the Middle East further drove forced migrations of people into harm’s way as unscrupulous traffickers warehoused, harmed, and tortured migrants without concern that they would be stopped. (…) refugees are willing to take the risks associated with migration rather than stay in dangerous homelands (e.g., Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and Syria) [2]



  1. Fox News. (September 16, 2015). Exclusive crime wave data shows frightening toll of illegal immigrant criminals. Retrieved from
  2. Immigration and Crime, Frances Bernat

See also

  • Opposition to immigration
  • Race
  • Crime
  • Youth bulge

Further Reading

  • Aguirre, A., Jr., & Simmers, J. (2008/2009). Mexican border crossers: The Mexican body in immigration discourse. Social Justice, 35, 99-106.
  • Anderson, R. (2016). Europe’s failed “fight” against irregular migration: Ethnographic notes on a counterproductive industry. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
  • Bersani, B. E., Loughran, T. A., & Piquero, A. R. (2014). Comparing patterns and predictors of immigrant offending among a sample of adjudicated youth. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 43, 1914-1933.
  • Blondell, J. (2008). Adverse impacts of massive and illegal immigration in the United States. The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 33, 328-350.
  • Border Network for Human Rights. (November 2008). U.S.-Mexico border policy report. El Paso, TX, and Tucson, AZ: Border Network for Human Rights and Border Action Network.
  • Chiricos, T., Stupi, E. K., Stults, B. J., & Gertz, M. (2014). Undocumented immigrant threat and support for social controls. Social Problems, 61(4), 673-692.
  • Desmond, C. E. (2009). The power of place: Immigrant communities and adolescent violence. The Sociological Quarterly, 50, 581-607.
  • Desmond, Scott A., & Kubrin, Charis E. (2009). The power of place: Immigrant communities and adolescent violence. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(4), 581-607.
  • Ferraro, V. A. (2014). Immigrants and crime in the new destinations. LFB Scholarly Publications.
  • Ferraro, V. (2016). Immigration and crime in the new destinations, 2000-2007: A test of the disorganizing effect of migration. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32, 23-45.
  • Frohlich, T. C., Stebbins, S., & Sauter, M. B. (July 15, 2015). America’s most violent (and most peaceful) states.
  • Fussell, E. (2011). The deportation threat dynamic and victimization of Latino migrants: Wage theft and robbery. The Sociological Quarterly, 52, 593-615.
  • Gleeson, S. (2010). Labor rights for all? The role of undocumented immigrant status for worker claims making. Law & Social Inquiry, 35, 561-602.
  • Grieco, E. G., Acosta, Y. D., de la Cruz, P. G., Gambino, C., Gryn, T., Larsen, L. J., et al. (May 2012). The foreign-born population in the United States: 2010. Report number ACS-19. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Grimes, M., Golob, E., Durcikova, A., & Nunamaker, J. (May 2013). Reasons and resolve to cross the line: A post-apprehension survey of unauthorized immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS). Tucson: University of Arizona.
  • Gutierrez, C. M., & Kirk, D. S. (2015). Silence speaks: The relationship between immigration and the underreporting of crime. Crime & Delinquency.
  • Hickman, L. J., & Suttorp, M. J. (2015). Are deportable aliens a unique threat to pubic safety? Comparing the recidivism of deportable and nondeportable aliens. Criminology & Public Policy, 7(1), 59-82.
  • Katz, C. M., Fox, A. M., & White, M. D. (2011). Assessing the relationship between immigration status and drug use. Justice Quarterly, 28, 541-575.
  • Koper, C. S., Guterbock, T. M., Woods, D. J., Taylor, B., & Carter, T. J. (2013). The effects of local immigration enforcement on crime and disorder: A case study of Prince William County, Virginia. Criminology & Public Policy, 12, 239-276.
  • Martinez, R., Jr., Lee, M. T., & Nielson, A. L. (2004). Segmented assimilation, local context and determinants of drug violence in Miami and San Diego: Does ethnicity and immigration matter? International Migration Review, 38, 131-157.
  • Martinez, R., Jr., Stowell, J. I., & Lee, M. T. (2010). Immigration and crime in an era of transformation: A longitudinal analysis of homicides in San Diego neighborhoods, 1980-2000. Criminology, 48(3), 797-829.
  • Mauer, M., & King, R. S. (2007). Uneven justice: State rates of incarcertion by race and ethnicity. Washington, DC: Sentencing Project.
  • Mears, D. P. (2001). The immigration-crime nexus: Toward an analytic framework for assessing and guiding theory, research and policy. Sociological Perspectives, 44, 1-19.
  • Messing, J. T., Becerra, D., Ward-Lasher, A., & Androff, D. K. (2015). Latinas’ perceptions of law enforcement: Fear of deportation, crime reporting, and trust in the system. Affilix Journal of Women and Social Work, 30, 328-340.
  • Metcalf, M. H. (2011). Built to fail: Deception and disorder in America’s immigration courts. Washington, DC: Center for Immigration Studies.
  • Ousey, G. C., & Kubrin, C. E. (2014). Immigration and the changing nature of homicide in US cities, 1980-2010. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 30, 453-483.
  • Pitts, K. M. (2014). Latina immigrants, interpersonal violence, and the decision to report to police. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 1661-1678.
  • Reina, A. S., Lohman, B. J., & Maldonado, M. M. (2014). “He said they’d deport me” : Factors influencing domestic violence help-seeking practices among Latina immigrants. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 593-615.
  • Salas-Wright, C. P., Vaughn, M. G., Schwartz, S. J., & Córdova, D. (2015). An “immigrant paradox” for adolescent externalizing behavior? Evidence from a national sample. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Published online September 2015.
  • Sampson, R. J. (2008). Rethinking crime and immigration. Contexts, 7(1), 28-33.
  • Sampson, R. J., Morenoff, J. D., & Raudenbush, S. (2005). Social anatomy of racial and ethnic disparities in violence. American Journal of Public Health, 95(2), 224-232.
  • Sampson, R. W., & Raudenbush, S. W. (2004). Seeing disorder: Neighborhood stigma and the social contruction of “broken windows.” Social Psychology Quarterly, 67(4), 319-342.
  • Shaw, C. R., & McKay, H. D. (1942). Juvenile delinquency in urban areas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Sherman, A. (July 28, 2015). Donald Trump wrongly says the number of illegal immigrants is 30 million or higher. Politifact.
  • Sohoni, D., & Sohoni, T. W. P. (2014). Perceptions of immigrant criminality: Crime and social boundaries. Sociological Quarterly, 55, 49-71.
  • Stansfield, R., Akins, S., Rumbaut, R. G., & Hammer, R. B. (2013). Assessing the effects of recent immigration on serious property crime in Austin, Texas. Sociological Perspectives, 56(4), 647-672.
  • Stargardter, G., & Gardner, S. (October 12, 2014). Migrants snared in multi-million dollar kidnap racket on U.S.-Mexico border. Baltimore Sun.
  • Stowell, J. I., Messner, S. F., McGeever, K. F., & Raffalovich, L. E. (2009). Immigration and the recent violent crime drop in the United States: A pooled, cross-sectional time-series analysis of metropolitan areas. Criminology, 47, 889-928.
  • Stupi, E. K., Chiricos, T., & Gerz, M. (2016). Perceived criminal threat from undocumented immigrants: Antecedents and consequences for policy preferences. Justice Quarterly, 33, 239-266.
  • Vélez, M. B. (2009). Contextualizing the immigration and crime effect: An analysis of homicide in Chicago neighborhoods. Homicide Studies, 13, 325-335.
  • Vélez, M. B., & Lyons, C. J. (2012). Situating the immigration and neighborhood crime relationship in multiple cities. In R. Martinez, M. S. Zatz, & C. E. Kubrin (Eds.), Punishing immigrants: Policy, politics, and injustice (pp. 159-177). New York: New York University Press.
  • Wagner, P. & Walsh, A. (2016). States of incarceration: The global context. Prison Policy.
  • Wang, X. (2012). Undocumented immigrants as perceived criminal threat: A test of the minority threat perspective. Criminology, 50(3), 743-776.
  • Wright, Emily M., & Benson, Michael L. (2010). Immigration and intimate partner violence: Exploring the immigrant paradox. Social Problems, 57(3), 480-503.
  • Zingher, J.N. (2014). The ideological and electoral determinants of laws targeting undocumented migrants in the U.S. states. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 14, 90-117.
  • Zong, J., & Batalova, J. (December 1, 2015). European immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.


One response to “Criminal Aspects of Immigration”

  1. international

    Researchers in many countries say that the urban (more of the 50% of the global population live in cities) crime problem is not generated by immigrants, legal or undocumented, and that immigrants are not increasing crime rates. Socially disadvantaged neighborhoods in large cities (for example, in Paris) may, however, make immigrant groups more susceptible to crime victimization when social support networks do not exist or are lacking. Despite the research findings on crime and immigration, the public in many countries (such as France) believes foreign-born immigrants to be dangerous criminals. To respond to undocumented immigration and the public fear of crime, anti-immigration laws enacted in many countires in recent years attempt to hasten the deportation processes for undocumented immigrants. Such laws have increased the workload in the courts of many countries and consequently deportation is likely when the undocumented immigrant has committed a serious violent crime or agrees to removal.

    Immigration laws and policies should consider the unintended consequences of crime victimization on undocumented immigrants on people and their families.