Of the many crazy things said this summer, one of the craziest came from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who defended her anti-immigrant policies with a healthy dose of shameless demagoguery, including the claim that undocumented immigrants were beheading people across Arizona. Brewer received a lot of push back, but as we've seen since, that hasn’t made conservatives any less willing to traffic on fears of violent, marauding immigrants, or target immigrants with harsh, draconian legislation.
With that said, I’m glad to see Berkley Law School’s new study on the relationship between immigration and crime in California. After analyzing nearly two decades of immigration, researchers at the law school found that serious crime actually declined during the nation’s most active years of immigration:
Between 1991and 2008, it is estimated that more than 3.6 million foreign‐born persons migrated to California, representing a significant number of newcomers to the nation residing in the state. According to the study, during this same period, there was a dramatic decline in violent crime and serious property crime rates, at 55 percent and 29 percent, respectively. In California's two border jurisdictions, San Diego and Imperial County, the violent crime rate declined by 58 percent and 53 percent, respectively.
This isn't to say that more immigration caused the decline in crime, but to say that undocumented immigration must be a non-issue, if there isn't a connection between violent crime and high immigration rates. Of course, it remains to be seen how applicable this research is to other states. Still, my guess is it will be completely relevant to other states with large immigrant populations; pace Brewer and her ilk, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants enter the United States so that they can work, and with any luck, build a life. By virtue of that fact, violent crime shouldn’t be a pressing issue when we’re discussing immigrant communities. Indeed, insofar that there is violent crime -- on the border, at least -- we would have a better time fighting it if we spent fewer resources rounding up people who simply want to work in exchange for money.
-- Jamelle Bouie