The world today is seeing more immigration than ever before, both legal and illegal. While countries forging solid links with one another in the vein of the European Union (hereafter referred to as EU for brevity) has encouraged legal immigration of all kinds, while war and deprivation in various other parts of the world has led to a burgeoning refugee crisis, with more people entering Western countries than can be adequately or carefully handled at any one time. These forms of immigration can be seen as quite different to each other at face value; however, when looked at in greater depth, the similarities can shine through, both in terms of the reasons for immigration and the reactions to them. While legal immigrants may not face quite the same stigmas as illegal immigrants and refugees would – since they have been through the legal processes required to give them a ‘spot’ in the country – they still utilise the process of immigration for more or less the same reasons as the latter groups. As will be discussed in greater detail below, the flow of legal immigration normally runs from poorer countries to more affluent ones, rather than the other way round (though there are obviously exceptions). As said above, the reactions to immigration are strangely similar: people seem determined to react to the influx of new people to their society by simultaneously accusing them of being parasitic freeloaders and hard-working drones who will put citizens out of a job. This is of course simplifying matters: immigration is a huge and complicated issue, and people – who generally don’t react to change well – react to that by attempting to ‘other’ the immigrants in various ways. One of these ways is by linking them to criminal activity, possibly in an attempt to keep them from properly being able to integrate. Since this method of ‘othering’ is damaging and can have a far-reaching effect, this paper will focus entirely on the links to crime, examining the issue from various angles in an attempt to shed light on the subject.
A recent homicide which allegedly had links to several immigrants (Nowstareth) has reignited the public debate on immigration and how it should be handled. The research which has been done into the possible connections between immigration and crime, however, has shown vastly different results than public hearsay would seem to suggest.
It’s 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 (Nowstareth)
The article makes the valid point – though sadly, it seems as though it will not be heeded – that one homicide being (tentatively) connected to immigration is not enough to merit a complete policy change when it comes to handling immigration. It goes on to further cement this argument by the finding that comparatively little crime is committed by immigrants as compared to the native population surrounding them. Nowstareth backs up his findings using the two separate study styles which are in use to track and evaluate criminality as it connects to immigration: the first study style uses data which is cribbed from census data taken from institutionalised populations over the years that immigration has occurred in order to better see what proportion of those populations are immigrant versus native. Since there are limits to the uses that these studies can be put to (Nowstareth), he also makes use of a second type of study in order to try and utilise a different viewpoint: the second group of studies is a large-scale “analysis to judge the impact of immigration on crime rates” (Nowstareth), which found that, far from increasing crime levels, immigration actually seemed instrumental in helping them to drop (Nowstareth). What is to be made of these findings? Clearly the findings of our studies do not bolster the public reaction to immigration which can be seen today, so it remains to be seen how this disconnect is formed.
The work done by Vaughan and Camarato comprises a study based on all the different information gathered by both private and public (in this case, governmental) organisations in the case of immigration and crime.
Assuming one can measure immigrant crime, the next question that arises is: To what should it be compared? This is an important question because crime rates among natives differ widely by group. For example, the share of native-born black men arrested or incarcerated is dramatically higher than for all other groups. (Vaughan & Camarato)
This quote makes clear that there is more going on in the criminal system than purely a reaction to immigration – consequently, it may be difficult (particularly in light of the revelations looked at below as to the validity of people’s statements) to truly ascertain the depths of immigrant involvement in crime, purely on the basis of what people say. It seems as though there is too much bias already present in the system for it to be truly used as a baseline for any serious conversations. Interestingly, while most of the work which is studied in this paper has found little to no correlation between immigration and crime (leaving aside the assertions made by Waters which follow immigrants into the second generation), Vaughan and Camarato found significant correlations between the immigrant population and the criminal population. Of course, there are caveats to be made here in that while the information gathered from census records can be supposed to be reasonably accurate, the same cannot be said of information gathered from the inmate population (Vaughan & Camarato). Their information was gathered mainly on the basis of simply asking them questions (though prisons are making changes in the way information is collated), which has the net effect of rendering any information gathered suspect, purely because prison inmate populations have no incentive to tell the absolute truth (Vaughan & Camarato). Indeed, we can further extrapolate this to say that immigrant populations in jail may have even less incentive to tell the truth, because the truth may lead to further consequences for them, such as being deported. Vaughan and Camarato have created work of some consequence here, and it will most likely prove to be valuable in any future endeavours to explain any connection between criminality and immigration, but for the reasons stated above, it should only ever be used as a starting point, and never as an end one.
What is interesting is the possible disconnect between the different types of immigration which can be seen. While allowance has to be made for the differences in culture and society which exist between the US and the UK, which could presumably affect the way in which immigration itself is viewed, it is startling to note that, of the two immigration waves seen by the UK in recent decades, the wave which came from countries inside the EU was not linked with any incidence of crime, while the wave which came from outside the EU was linked with a wave of property crime (Bell, Machin & Fasani x). This is, of course, all done with a lack of knowledge on the economic effects felt by those who become immigrants, either willingly or unwillingly, due to a lack of pertinent studies (Bell, Machin & Fasani x), though the relative levels of difficulty felt in integrating and finding work between EU immigrants and non-EU immigrants must be supposed to make a difference.
Most of the migrants associated with the first flow are ultimately denied leave to remain in the UK. On average during this period, around 70% of asylum seekers had their claim rejected or withdrawn. (Bell, Machin & Fasani 1)
While considering the potential reasons for the differences in crime levels, Bell, Machin and Fasani make sure to point out that there are no higher incidences of violent crime in the immigrant population. Indeed, since the data used in pursuit of the stated goals of this particular paper do not differentiate between immigrant and native to any great degree (Bell, Machin & Fasani 2), it is most difficult to truly ascertain which segments of the population are responsible for the rise in property crime. It could in fact the case that the native population is to blame, but since the crime rate rose when the immigrants arrive, it is easier to pin the happenstance on them rather than adjust our ideas about our native populations!
As mentioned above, the two waves of immigration to the UK can be separate into EU and non-EU, respectively. While it is non-EU immigrants which are specifically referred to by Nowstareth as “self-select[ed] for those willing to work”, it seems unfair to stigmatise the EU group as being unwilling to work, particularly in light of the differing circumstances both groups face. It should be noted that the EU allows for freedom of movement across the member countries, with attendant state benefits for EU citizens. Immigrants from outside the EU cannot access these benefits to the same degree, which is one possible reason for the difference in attitudes towards immigrants. Another possible reason could be traced to the language used to describe the separate waves of immigrants – while the EU wave are referred to as ‘workers’, in reference to the fact that the freedom of movement was created in order to facilitate working and studying across the EU, the newest wave of immigrants are referred to as asylum seekers (Bell, Machin & Fasani 2-3). The difference in language, and our own preconceptions of what these words mean when they are attached to people (never mind that asylum seekers will most likely want to live and work just as much as the already-designated worker), may go a long way to explain our difference in attitude and example.
The characteristics and outcomes, particularly in the labour market, of these two waves are starkly different. These differences will be crucial in examining whether there are links between immigration and crime. (Bell, Machin & Fasani 2-3)
While the difference in language used to describe the two groups is not the only reason there is such discrimination and blame forced on immigrants, it is the most visible way we have to labelling them, and therefore is worth mentioning. Immigrants from the EU, as mentioned have less difficulty with integration than immigrants from non-EU countries. Bell, Machin and Fasani mention that asylum seekers have to make do with housing in the worst areas in towns and cities, with all the attendant difficulties that that brings. Inadequate housing, difficult travel links, and substandard healthcare are all barriers which are erected to stand in the way of immigrants truly entering the new society which is their home.
According to Tony Waters, immigration may in fact see a drop in the crime rate because immigrants are a self-selecting group of people (Waters) – aka, they self-select for their willingness to work and become an integral member of the community they are joining. However, while he disagrees with the assertion made by many groups of people that crime and immigration are implicitly linked, he does agree that there is something to link them, however loosely.
Immigrants are more likely to seek employment mowing our lawns, staffing our restaurants, cleaning our houses, and staff our factories than they are to commit crime. In fact, such populations by themselves tend to have lower arrest rates than native-born US citizens. (Waters)
The literature on the subject seems to suggest that crime rates among immigrants could be low due to several factors: as we’ve seen, because immigrants are self-selected to be workers and good members of the community, and also possibly because they are too busy working and becoming accepted members of society to commit crime. One other factor of interest is that of the general age of immigrants. Waters points out that the average age of an immigrant is the late twenties – his assertion that this takes us beyond the age when people might feel the need to act out via committing crimes is backed up by the words of The Economist which will be viewed in greater depth below (“To have and to Have Not”), but it doesn’t seem to tell the full story. If crime is something which is explicitly not involved with immigration, then how do we explain the correlation between crime and immigration, particularly within the second generation of immigrants (Waters)? The circumstances which Bell, Machin and Fasani bring up during their work on the same subject tells us that immigrants are normally placed in disadvantaged areas, with bad housing, unstable prospects, and healthcare which is indifferent at best (3), may account for it. If we accept that immigrants likely become immigrants in hopes of securing a better future for themselves and their families, it becomes slightly easier to accept that this new generation might become frustrated with what they perceive as an insurmountable gap between them and the native population due to the prevailing culture. However, while this crime rate is certainly something which exists, Waters may be stretching the bounds of the relationship between crime and immigration in trying to find less tenuous links – by his own admission, first generation immigrants are still less likely to commit crime than the native population surrounding them.
As we’ve seen, there are two main types of immigrant in the world: one is the asylum seeker, or refugee – moving into new areas in order to avoid war, persecution or loss in the area they previously lived; the other is the ‘worker’ – someone who moves through the process of immigration in order to access new workforces and new opportunities. In 2014, the EU made the decision that all member countries would open their borders to citizens from other EU countries, in the hopes of encouraging freedom of movement across Europe. The net result has been a mass movement in people across the continent – mostly workers and students, as was hoped, but some fear that the freedom of movement may prove irresistible to thieves (D, J.). The migration has taken place, in the main, from poorer countries of Eastern Europe into the more affluent countries of Western Europe, e.g. Germany, France and Britain (D, J.), so while we may optimistically say that the majority of them are migrating to take advantage of the new job offers which freedom of movement within the EU will afford them, we do have to realise that our own prejudices may play a part in saying what migrants are entering our country for.
Franco Fasani, one of the researchers, argues that such immigrants are eager to work, have social networks of some kind and might well have studied English. Economic migrants are likely to arrange jobs before they arrive. Few are unemployed. (D, J.)
Not only does this show us that any ideas of a huge crime wave being precipitated by the arrival of a migrant group are false (the article noted earlier that crime rates where the immigrants were permanently settled actually fell), but it can also stand as a means of reminding us of the differences between the two different types of immigrants, and the barriers they face. As mentioned above, immigrants from the EU countries will most likely have a job lined up for when they arrive in their new country, and if they don’t have a native command of the language, will at least be able to live. Contrast this to an immigrant who is an asylum seeker or refugee, who will most likely have focused on leaving the area of danger rather than trying to learn the language or secure a job, and the difficulties facing this group becomes clear.
Our attitude towards immigration and immigrants is perhaps one of the best indications we have of our own innate need for some sense of superiority over others (Alexander 50). This is possibly the reason why immigrants are shuffled around the way they are – keeping them in a position which is quite clearly low on the societal ladder allows people who would otherwise be there to feel better about themselves (Alexander 53) – and it also gives people rather higher up the food chain than either the immigrants themselves or the people who are now slightly up the ladder due to their presences something to talk about when they are speechifying about the ills which are now afflicting the country, whether through their very presence, or through the way they highlight certain issues which people want to hold up to the light (Riley).
“POVERTY”, wrote Aristotle, “is the parent of crime.” But was he right? Certainly, poverty and crime are associated. And the idea that a lack of income might drive someone to misdeeds sounds plausible. (“To Have and to Have Not)
In reality, it seems as though immigration and its attendant problems are covering for ideas that people cannot seem to bring themselves to confront directly, for better or for worse. The paper that appeared in The Economist, which is quoted above, is studying the effects of income on the possibility that crime will prosper in a poverty-stricken environment. This paper lacks the ability to fully explore the ideas behind what is expressed in “To Have and to Have Not”, but such an in-depth exploration is not necessary for the lateral ideas that will be conveyed. It is important to note, however, that immigrants can be – and are – impoverished just as much as cultural natives can be themselves, thus rendering this idea doubly moot under any real inspection. The idea of ‘immigration causes crime’ is a particularly good stand-in for the maxim that ‘poverty causes crime’ – by moving immigrants into neighbourhoods which are predominantly made up of poorer families\situated in so-called ‘disadvantaged areas’, the people who are directly responsible for creating opportunities for the poor people who would normally inhabit such areas can effectively ignore their responsibilities. Perhaps their reasoning goes along such lines as to say that poverty can’t be the problem, because the only people in the areas in question are immigrants. These circumstances could quite easily allow them to claim that immigration is responsible for rising crime rates, and not the poverty with which natives can be afflicted as easily as those same immigrants.
The attitude to immigration, it seems, can be summed up in one word: fear. People are afraid of differences, afraid of the change that new people and different cultures will necessarily bring to their comfortable niche. While we are accustomed to refugees fleeing their own countries in an attempt to get a better life for themselves\their families (or at the very least, one which doesn’t involve the risk of being killed during the daily bread run), legal immigrants are quite often moving to a new country for those very same reasons. Immigrants are a convenient scapegoat, perhaps – they are uniquely vulnerable in a society which openly scorns them and denies them a real place. If we take what has been said by several articles looked at in greater depth, it is not the immigration which specifically drives people to criminality, but the circumstances which they are forced to endure because of it, which are not limited to the poverty which intrinsically comes with being in a new country with no job, no support network, and a very limited command of the language. Of course, it is important to note that most if not all of the work looked at in this paper have specified that it is extremely difficult to gather accurate information on the subject, so any and all information should be taken with a grain of salt. On the note of being scapegoats, it is interesting to note, as much of the research in this paper does, that the attitudes towards immigrants can change depending on who they are. While the reasons behind this differ according to the culture in which the immigration is taking place, the real reasons behind that were beyond the scope of the paper, and so were not investigated in any great depth. They were, however, discussed in such a manner as to suggest that the public debate and rhetoric surrounding issues of immigration and asylum seeking today that, while there are legitimate concerns being raised about immigrants and their effect on the native culture during discourse on the subject, those narratives generally exist in order to cover more attitudes and ideals which may or may not meet with such universal agreement. There might be links between immigration and crime in the sense that it does rise when immigration takes place, but the research looked at throughout this paper would seem to suggest that it is being perpetuated against the immigrant population, not by them. A slightly more cynical and cold-hearted viewpoint might also say that people who are disposed to commit crimes may take advantage of the current societal climate surrounding immigrants and their supposed criminal tendencies to go on a crime spree of their own, content in the knowledge that the crime ratings would be pinned on immigrants before they were pinned on natives.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow. The New Press: 2013
Bell, B., Machin, S. & Fasani, F. “Crime and Immigration: Evidence from Large Immigrant Waves” CEP Discussion Paper 984, 2010. x-35.
D, J. “How Does Immigration Affect Crime?” The Economist Explains 12 Dec 2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/12/economist-explains-10 Accessed 30 August 2016.
Nowstareth, A. “Immigration and Crime - What the Research Says” Cato Institute 14 July 2015, http://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-crime-what-research-says
Riley, J. “The Mythical Connection Between Immigrants and Crime” The Wall Street Journal 14 July 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mythical-connection-between-immigrants-and-crime-1436916798 Accessed 30 August 2016.
“To Have and to Have Not” The Economist 23 August 2013 http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21613303-disturbing-study-link-between-incomes-and-criminal-behaviour-have-and Accessed 31 August 2016
Vaughan, J. & Camarota, S. “Immigration and Crime: Addressing a Conflicted Issue” Center for Immigration Studies November 2009, http://cis.org/ImmigrantCrime
Waters, T. “The Connection between Crime and Immigration: A Complicated but not Conflicted Issue” Ethnography.com 8 Feb 2010, http://www.ethnography.com/2010/02/the-connection-between-crime-and-immigration-a-complicated-but-not-conflicted-issue/