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A Few New Ideas for the Immigration Policy Debate

[A Two-part Series]

Part II

Shedding Light on the Issue of Immigration and Crime, and a Novel Proposal for a Humanitarian Approach to Immigration Policy

 

Do Immigrants (legal or illegal) commit a lot of Crime?

Where immigration is concerned most rule-making as laws are simply arbitrary beliefs of what is valued as a society depending upon which group is in power—in this case whites with a slim majority over minorities. And, solving the problem of immigration may simply mean reversing the creation of deviance through over-criminalization of people coming across the border.

    It is a fact that both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants commit less crime than do native born in the United States. The Cato Institute has done some remarkable research on the issue of immigrants and crime.

The following is a research article written by Alex Nowrasteh and published for the Cato Library. The study is dated July 14, 2015. The title of the article is “Immigration and Crime – What the Research Says.”

“The alleged murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by illegal immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez has reignited the debate over the link between immigration and crime. Such debates often call for change in policy regarding the deportation or apprehension of illegal immigrants. However, if policies should change, it should not be in reaction to a single tragic murder.  It should be in response to careful research on whether immigrants actually boost the U.S. crime rates.

With few exceptions, immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on crime rates.  As described below, the research is fairly one-sided.

There are two broad types of studies that investigate immigrant criminality.  The first type uses Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data from the institutionalized population and broadly concludes that immigrants are less crime prone than the native-born population.  It is important to note that immigrants convicted of crimes serve their sentences before being deported with few exceptions.  However, there are some potential problems with Census-based studies that could lead to inaccurate results.  That’s where the second type of study comes in.  The second type is a macro level analysis to judge the impact of immigration on crime rates, generally finding that increased immigration does not increase crime and sometimes even causes crime rates to fall.

Type 1: Immigrant Crime – Censuses of the Institutionalized Population

Butcher and Piehl examine the incarceration rates for men aged 18-40 in the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses.  In each year immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives with the gap widening each decade.  By 2000, immigrants have incarceration rates that are one-fifth those of the native-born.  Butcher and Piehl wrote another paper focusing on immigrant incarceration in California by looking at both property and violent crimes by city.  Between years 2000 and 2005, California cities with large inflows of recent immigrants tended to  have lower violent crimes rates and the findings are statistically significant.  During the same time period, there is no statistically significant relationship between immigration and property crime.

Ewing, Martinez, and Rumbaut summarize their findings on criminality and immigration thusly:

“[R]oughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18-39 are incarcerated compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.  The disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial census.  In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.”

They continue by focusing on immigrant incarceration rates by country of origin in the 2010 Census.  Less educated young Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men (poorly educated young men are most likely to be incarcerated) make up the bulk of the unlawful immigrant population but have significantly lower incarceration rates than native-born men without a high-school diploma.  In 2010, 10.7 percent of native-born men aged 18-39 without a high school degree were incarcerated compared to 2.8 percent of Mexican immigrants and 1.7 percent of Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants.  These are similar to Rumbaut’s older research also based on Census data from 2000.  Controlling for relevant observable factors, young uneducated immigrant men from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala are less likely to be incarcerated than similarly situated native-born men.

However, studies of immigrant criminality based on Census data alone could fail to give the full picture.  First, many of the answers given to the Census may have been educated guesses from the Census workers and not the inmates.  Second, the government has done a very poor job of gathering data on the nationality and immigration status of prisoners – even when it has tried.  That biases me against the accuracy of prison surveys by the Census Bureau.  Third, incarceration rates may better reflect the priorities of law enforcement than the true rates of criminal activity among certain populations.

Type 2: Macro Level Analysis of Immigrant Criminality

To avoid the potential Census data problems, other researchers have looked at crime rates and immigration on a macro scale.  These investigations also capture other avenues through which immigration could cause crimes – for instance, by inducing an increase in native criminality or by being easy targets for native criminals.

The phased rollout of the Secure Communities (S-COMM) immigration enforcement program provided a natural experiment.  A recent paper by Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox used the phased rollout to see how S-COMM affected crime rates per county.  If immigrants were disproportionately criminal, then S-COMM would decrease the crime rates.  They found that S-COMM “led to no meaningful reduction in the FBI index crime rate” including violent crimes.  Relying on similar data with different specifications, Treyger et al. found that S-COMM did not decrease crime rates nor did it lead to an increase in discriminatory policing that some critics were worried about.  According to both reports, the population of immigrants is either not correlated, or negatively correlated, with crime rates.

Ousey and Kubrin looked at 159 cities at three dates between 1980 and 2000 and found that crime rates and levels of immigration are not correlated.  They conclude that “[v]iolent crime is not a deleterious consequence of increased immigration.”  Martinez looked at 111 U.S. cities with at least 5,000 Hispanics and found no statistically significant findings.  Reid et al. looked at a sample of 150 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and found that levels of recent immigration had a statistically significant negative effect on homicide rates but no effect on property crime rates.  They wrote, “[i]t appears that anti-immigrant sentiments that view immigrants as crime prone are not only inaccurate at the micro-level, they are also inaccurate at the macro-level … increased immigration may actually be beneficial in terms of lessening some types of crimes.”  Wadsworth found that cities with greater growth in immigrant or new immigrant populations between 1990 and 2000 tended to have steeper decreases in homicide and robbery rates.

Using panel data on U.S. counties, Spenkuch finds that a 10 percent increase in the share of immigrants increases the property crime rate by 1.2 percent.  In other words, the average immigrant commits roughly 2.5 times as many property crimes as the average native but with no impact on violent crime rates.  He finds that this effect on property crime rates is caused entirely by Mexican immigrants.  Separating Mexicans from other immigrants, the former commit 3.5 to 5 times as many crimes as the average native.  However, all other immigrants commit less than half as many crimes as natives.  This is the most deleterious finding that I discovered.

Stowell et al. looks at 103 different MSAs from 1994-2004 and finds that violent crime rates tended to decrease as the concentration of immigrants increased.  An immigrant concentration two standard deviations above the mean translates into 40.5 fewer violent crimes per 100,000 compared to a decrease of 8.1 violent crimes in areas that experienced a change in immigration concentration two standard deviations below the mean.  It is easy to focus on the horrible tragedies when somebody is murdered by an immigrant but it’s very hard to imagine all of the people who weren’t murdered because of the lower crime rates created by increased immigration.  In their summary of the research on this topic, they write:

“[T]he weight of the evidence suggests that immigration is not associated with increased levels of crime.  To the extent that a relationship does exist, research often finds a negative effect of immigration on levels of crime, in general, and on homicide in particular.

Some immigrants from certain countries of origin may be more crime prone than others, as Spenkuch finds above.  To test this, Chalfin used rainfall patterns in Mexico to estimate inflows of Mexican immigrants.  The idea is that lower rainfall and a decrease in agricultural productivity in Mexico would push marginal Mexican immigrants out of Mexico and into the U.S. labor market.  Mexican rainfall patterns and the subsequent immigration had no effect on violent or property crime rates in major U.S. metropolitan areas.

These trends have also been found on the local level.  Davies and Fagan looked at crime and immigration patterns at the neighborhood level in New York City.  They find that crime rates are not higher in areas with more immigrants.  Sampson looked at Chicago and found that Hispanic immigrants were far less likely to commit a violent criminal act then either black or white native Chicagoans.  Lee et al. found that trends in recent immigration are either not correlated with homicides or are negatively correlated in Miami, San Diego, and El Paso.  The only exception is that there is a positive relationship between immigration and black homicide rates in San Diego.

Numerous studies also conclude that the high immigration rate of the 1990s significantly contributed to the precipitous crime decline of that decade.  According to this theory, immigrants are less crime prone and have positive spillover effects like aiding in community redevelopment, rebuilding of local civil society in formerly decaying urban cores, and contributing to greater economic prosperity through pushing natives up the skills spectrum through complementary task specialization.

Note on Illegal Immigration

The public focus is on the crime rates of unauthorized or illegal immigrants.  The research papers above mostly include all immigrants regardless of legal status.  However, every problem with gathering data on immigrant criminality is multiplied for unauthorized immigrants.  There is some work that can help shed light here.

With particular implications for the murder of Kate Steinle, Hickman et al. look at the recidivism rates of 517 deportable and 780 no deportable aliens released from the Los Angeles County Jail over a 30-day period in 2002.  They found that there is no difference in the re-arrest rate of deportable and no deportable immigrants released from incarceration at the same place and time.  Their paper is not entirely convincing for several reasons, the most important being that their sample does not include the higher risk inmates who were transferred to state prison and were subsequently released from there.  There are also findings in their paper that seem to contradict their conclusion that isn’t adequately accounted for.  This is only one study of one sample in one city, but the results should be incorporated into any argument over sanctuary cities.

Conclusion

Both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions.  There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality.  One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law.

Another explanation is that immigrants self-select for those willing to work rather than those willing to commit crimes.  According to this “healthy immigrant thesis,” motivated and ambitious foreigners are more likely to immigrate and those folks are less likely to be criminals. This could explain why immigrants are less likely to engage in “anti-social” behaviors than natives despite having lower incomes.  It’s also possible that more effective interior immigration enforcement is catching and deporting unlawful immigrants who are more likely to be criminals before they have a chance to be incarcerated.

The above research is a vital and missing component in the debate over the supposed links between immigration and crime.”

This alone is sufficient to ask the following question: If immigrants are more law-abiding as people than those who were born in the United States, then why is the government working to over-criminalize everyone who comes across our borders? The motivation is the same as before. That is, people who are already citizens by being second, third or fourth generation immigrants seem to have no qualms about casting aspersions at newcomers like Hispanics or Muslims. The new kid on the block has always been treated suspiciously. In addition, the psychological and sociological nature of “White Fright”/”White Flight” appears to show its ugly face again as to why such a large portion of a largely white electorate wants to discriminate against Hispanics, and the Muslim population of refugees who want to settle in the United States.

The belief that Donald Trump will better protect the United States through a ban of immigrants from Mexico/South America or from Muslim countries has not been well thought out, is discriminatory, and goes against the very laws (like the U.S. Constitution) he swore at inauguration he would uphold.

A Novel Proposal for a Humanitarian Approach to Immigration Policy—Basic Ideas

What is the basic program overall?

The operation of passports, visas and green cards should probably remain the same. However, whether one is already inside the country or outside, the issue of people wanting to seek full American citizenship is a separate issue altogether. There needs to be a re-definition or new definition of citizenship. It is my idea that two levels of citizenship should exist.

The first level would be called Temporary Citizenship, granted to all for 2 years while they relocate within the United States, seek jobs, receive humanitarian aid, and vetted initially in one of two locations (to be described in detail shortly).

The first location will require staffing and resources to open. But the original Ellis Island in New York needs to be re-opened. Both Ellis Island locations will need the resources of the United States government. Since American business owners are the beneficiary of this new untapped source of labor, they will be asked to contribute their fair share to this immigration plan.

The second level of citizenship would be called Full Citizenship and would occur after a temporary citizen passes the current requirements for Full- Citizenship.

Most naturalization applicants are required to take a test on:

  • English
  • Civics (U.S. history and government)

If these requirements are met, the vetted new immigrants would be given official notice that they are now a citizen of the United States of America.

It has been estimated that close to 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island (the one in New York). Trump’s plan to simply build a wall between Mexico and the United States is “not too bright” and won’t achieve its objectives.

A much better way to achieve this goal is both humanitarian and intelligent: (1) Enact amnesty as the policy of the United States in order to encourage, not discourage, people who want to become American citizens, (2) establish a new singular entry point along our southern border similar to the original “Ellis Island” that operated between 1892 and 1954. The new “Ellis Island” would function to welcome people from Mexico as well as South American countries, (3) in addition to opening a new “Ellis Island” along our southern border (soon to be called The Freedom Bridge), there needs to be a re-opening of the original Ellis Island for immigrants wanting to come into the country from elsewhere in the world, and (4) reduce the many hurdles and obstacles reflected in prior amnesty programs. Amnesty needs to be simplified not encumbered with needless over-regulation.

Once released to enter American soil, immigrants would all be given assistance in relocating across the country with federal, state and local job counseling, employment services and temporary housing and some monetary assistance, and offered educational programs and family services. County health departments would initially serve to provide health care to all newly arriving immigrants and their family members.

I am recommending that the federal government set aside, in the annual federal budget, an investment in helping newly vetted immigrants. Investing in people rather than wasting taxpayer money on some worthless, ineffectual wall, will generate over the long haul, a real return on one’s investment such as more people succeeding and paying federal, state and local taxes. Immigrants represent a real and potential source for expanding our economy and well-being. Where would the money for assistance come from?

The current 2017 fiscal year budget for the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department is 48.9 billion in discretionary funding, and 11.3 billion in mandatory funding over the next ten years. A modest annual investment of $2 billion dollars from this federal agency could be allocated each year to help provide newly entering immigrants to have all the services needed to give them a leg up on becoming a fully functioning American citizen.

Should there be amnesty? The answer is absolutely yes. But it still needs to be a program that facilitates rather than throws up unnecessary and capricious roadblocks all along the way. This mercurial and temperamental inclination of our nation’s representatives is to over-control people. It smacks of an authoritarian regime rather than a country bent on helping our citizens (or to be citizens) achieve the American dream.

What I did not like about the Amnesty proposals of 2012 by the Obama administration is that there were still too many hurdles or hoops to jump through to become a citizen of this great country of ours.

Paying the U.S. supposedly $5000 in back taxes, for those already illegally in the country, seemed like an unnecessary and somewhat arbitrary notion of creating hurdles that really block, rather than facilitate, becoming a citizen who will, in short order, be paying taxes anyway. So, what do I propose that would make sense?

What about El Paso, Texas

Under my system, one of the border agent’s duties would be to provide transportation to newly arriving immigrants from Mexico and/or South America. Instead of arresting people coming across the border they would be assisted by the border patrol in their journey to peacefully reach El Paso, Texas. This would mean helping people trying to cross the border anywhere along the way between El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California.

Instead of calling it Ellis Island II—– I think a more appropriate name would be “The Freedom Bridge.” What kind of city is El Paso, Texas?

“El Paso, Texas is about 300 miles south of Albuquerque and 300 miles east of Tucson. The metropolitan population of the city is about 830,000 and the 2010 US Census Bureau reports a population of about 650,000. Major industries in El Paso include manufacturing, cold storage, and call centers.

The El Paso economy is largely based on how well and how safe Ciudad Juarez is at any time. El Paso also benefits from its vicinity to the border and despite its rowdy neighbor Juarez; El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States.

Recent trends in El Paso include a new triple-A baseball team with a new ballpark downtown. The triple-A team was previously in Tucson. The new ballpark has spurred some new development downtown including two proposed hotels. The office and industrial markets are currently steady with a few projects under construction. The multi-family and retail markets are doing well around Fort Bliss, which recently received a large influx of personnel returning from missions. New single-family residential projects are at the lower end of the price range and are building on the existing finished lot inventory. Overall, the market appears to be steady and recovering slowly from the long recession.”

All crossing the border into the United States would be shown respect and dignity and afforded common humanitarian aid. Arrival at the new Ellis Island”  would be the beginning of their journey toward citizenship. The new Ellis Island would not be a detention facility, but like its predecessor of 1892 to 1954, it would be a processing facility.

     Any decisions to deport someone could only come from legal due process with the right of any arriving immigrant to receive legal counsel. A lot of legislation will have to be passed before this plan can take effect.

The perfect city, in my opinion, for such an “Ellis Island facility,” is El Paso Texas with its bridge separating Juarez, Mexico from the city of El Paso. Juarez could be a staging area to ready tired travelers prior to their journey across the bridge (The Freedom Bridge) to the United States.

Crossing the bridge itself will have symbolic significance all by itself. The bridge to freedom will soon have as much significance as those passengers, back at the beginning of the 20th Century, who embraced the view of the Statute of Liberty as their ships docked in New York so long ago.

Mexico is not going to pay for the wall; perhaps however, they might be willing to assist this transition by providing much humanitarian aid to those who show up in Juarez as a staging area with food, water, sleeping bags, and written material to let them know what to expect once they cross the bridge.

Every potential citizen from Mexico or South America who goes through the new Ellis Island would be issued a red, white, and blue card as proof that they had come through the new Ellis Island in El Paso, Texas.

Each card would have a thumbprint and a one-of-a-kind identification number on the card besides full name, and city of origin. This would all be part of the vetting process. The green card system that currently exists could and should continue to operate for those immigrants who desire only a temporary stay in the United States. Passports and Visa’s would also continue to operate as they had in the past.

The “Ellis Island” card would be carried on the person to offer up should they be (legally or illegally) stopped by any law enforcement agency. After two years the card would simply be a souvenir to keep after full citizenship is achieved. Those who fail to meet full citizenship requirements by two years would be allowed to receive a one-time additional two year extension of temporary citizenship. Therefore, full citizenship would have to be earned in four years from date of vetting completion.

What about illegals who are already here in America?

With Amnesty the law of the land, former illegals would be free to come out of the shadows. Instead of a few U.S. cities being a sanctuary, the entire country would become a sanctuary welcoming all to our shores, the only restriction being they must be vetted and not exceed in total 1 million a year.        .

It should be pointed out that the number of illegals coming to the United States each year from south of the border has been dropping for several years (Trump gives himself credit for this) even though the decline in people coming across our southern border preceded his even becoming a candidate for the highest office in the land.

In addition, there are some walls erected along the southern border already. Tunnels have been created in various spots to go under the walls, rendering wall structures practically worthless. The new Trump plan to put concrete 6 feet below the wall won’t work either. This is because people will simply dig holes below the concrete plus the cost of such use of concrete along a 2,000 mile border would be astronomical.

Every sociologist knows that deviance, legally defined, is as much the product of the “rule–makers” as it is the “rule-breakers.” This notion is based on Labeling Theory in sociology. One day an illegal alien is a violator of immigration laws, but just as easily could be a non-violator without the stigma of a label defining that person as a rule-breaker. It all depends on who sets the rules and the defining of a behavior (with value judgments like “good” or “bad”) as such in the first place. By analogy it is no different in concept than to define the Japanese or Germans as our enemy but, since the end of WWII, they have become our ally.

Paying for a Humanitarian Approach to Immigration Policy    

As mentioned earlier $2 billion dollars would be needed annually (a modest investment by comparison to the total 2017 Fiscal Year Budget proposed). It should come from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development on an annual basis. So, how do we pay for the construction of a new Ellis Island and refurbishing and re-tooling of the original Ellis Island in New York?

The cost of creating, re-creating and operating two Ellis Island facilities on an annual basis is estimated to be, as a minimum, about 500 million dollars.  The cost of Trump’s wall has been estimated to be, at a minimum, about 25 billion dollars. The cost of two Ellis Island facilities would be 1/50 the cost of building a wall under the Trump plan. What this means is that the total cost of my idea would be approximately, $2.5 billion dollars a year. Once again, total cost of my proposal is 1/10 the cost of Donald Trump’s proposed wall. In terms of cost effectiveness my plan is significantly better and more cost effective.

Final Thoughts

People of every group in America believe in the value of every human being, no matter what their social status in life. Consequently, the whole concept of Amnesty needs desperately to be implemented in the United States. It is what a civilized people would do.

By accepting the 11 million undocumented people, predominantly from Mexico and South America, then ICE resources currently dedicated to removing illegals who are already in the country  would be better spent providing backup to overworked, underappreciated border patrol officers. A comprehensive immigration plan has been absent from the American consciousness for a very long time.

Both Presidents Bush and Obama wanted a comprehensive immigration plan but were unsuccessful in getting it legislatively passed. The current President has no interest in a comprehensive immigration plan. Until the current president is impeached, leaves office, or dies in office, it is unlikely a comprehensive immigration plan will ever become a reality.

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