Immigration And Crime: Facts Are Stubborn Things

The link between immigration and crime rates that many immigration opponents point to simply does not exist

One of the most repeated claims by foes of illegal — and, in some cases, legal — immigration is that the U.S.-Mexico border region has seen an uptick in crime that is directly attributable to people crossing the border illegally. As Steven Taylor has shown in several recent posts here, that claim is not supported by the evidence. Today, Time Magazine reports that, the numbers simply don’t support the claim that immigration has led to more crime:

When U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled on Wednesday that key provisions of Arizona’s new anti-immigration law were unconstitutional, she could have also declared them unnecessary. That is, if the main impetus behind the controversial legislation was, as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said when she signed it in April, “border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration.” The fact is, despite the murderous mayhem raging across the border in Mexico, the U.S. side, from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is one of the nation’s safest corridors.

According to the FBI, the four large U.S. cities (with populations of at least 500,000) with the lowest violent crime rates — San Diego, Phoenix and the Texas cities of El Paso and Austin — are all in border states. “The border is safer now than it’s ever been,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press last month. Even Larry Dever, the sheriff of Arizona’s Cochise County, where the murder last March of a local rancher, believed to have been committed by an illegal immigrant, sparked calls for the law, conceded to the Arizona Republic recently that “we’re not seeing the [violent crime] that’s going on on the other side.”

Consider Arizona itself — whose illegal-immigrant population is believed to be second only to California’s. The state’s overall crime rate dropped 12% last year; between 2004 and 2008 it plunged 23%. In the metro area of its largest city, Phoenix, violent crime — encompassing murder, rape, assault and robbery — fell by a third during the past decade and by 17% last year. The border city of Nogales, an area rife with illegal immigration and drug trafficking, hasn’t logged a single murder in the past two years.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. It’s much easier for Mexican drug gangs to commit violence in their home country, where many public officials apparently look the other way in exchange for cash, than it is to cross the border and pull that off in the United States. The most telling example of that simple fact can be found in El Paso:

An even more telling example is El Paso. Its cross-border Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, suffered almost 2,700 murders last year, most of them drug-related, making it possibly the world’s most violent town. But El Paso, a stone’s throw across the Rio Grande, had just one murder. A big reason, say U.S. law-enforcement officials, is that the Mexican drug cartels’ bloody turf wars generally end at the border and don’t follow the drugs into the U.S. Another, says El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, is that “the Mexican cartels know that if they try to commit that kind of violence here, they’ll get shut down.”

Even the claim that Phoenix has become a kidnapping capital doesn’t hold up:

It is true that Phoenix has in recent years seen a spate of kidnapping
s. But in almost every case they’ve involved drug traffickers targeting other narcos for payment shakedowns, and the 318 abductions reported last year were actually down 11% from 2008.

None of this has stopped politicians from using crime to demagouge the immigration issue, of course. Most famously perhaps, is Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s claims about crime in Arizona:

Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer claimed recently that law enforcement has been finding beheaded bodies in the desert — but local agencies say they’ve never encountered such a case.

“Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” Brewer said Sunday, suggesting that the beheadings were part of increased violence along the border.

But medical examiners from six of Arizona’s counties — four of which border Mexico — tell the Arizona Guardian that they’ve never encountered an immigration-related crime in which the victim’s head was cut off.

“That report, which is based on other news reports, suggests that the drug cartels who operate on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, have not beheaded their victims,” said Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman. “Even a cursory check of news stories on the internet suggests otherwise.”

Brewer has also claimed that most of the people crossing the border into Arizona are drug mules, a claim which is not supported by the available facts and which was widely derided by other immigration opponents in Arizona and elsewhere.

As John Adams once famously said, facts are stubborn things. In this case, the facts clearly show that immigration has not turned our southern border region into a criminal nightmare.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. floyd says:

    Every illegal emmigrant add at least one crime to the statistics.

  2. Herb says:

    “Every illegal emmigrant add at least one crime to the statistics.”

    Yes, because statistics are compiled by the omniscient.

  3. JKB says:

    And yet the federal government has seen fit to post signs warning Americans not to travel within 80 miles of the border in Arizona and some areas along the border have been closed to Americans altogether.  True, the actual murders, assaults, etc. don’t occur but keeping crime down by ceding territory is not the way to maintain sovereignty.
    Yes, politicians citing crime when it wasn’t in evidence was stupid but that is not unusual for politicians.  But the fact of the matter is, if you don’t defend your borders you lose your borders.  Let is go on long enough then some fool will claim cultural rights to ignore borders, oh wait, to late.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, immigration is a legal term and process for entry into a nation not your home.  What we are dealing with on our southern border is invasion by definition.  Those who favor open borders have redefined terms so as to soften what is really taking place.  Kind of like going to someones house.  If you are trying to visit, you knock at the door.  If you are to be welcomed in, someone will answer the door and either invite you in, or tell you to come back later as there is no room.  If your intent is a little different, like a home invasion, you hop over the back fence and break a window on the back of the house to get it.  Then once in demand to be fed housed, clothed and employed.  If you are OK with the last example, Doug, let me know where you live.

  5. Articles and posts like this are a good (albeit wasted) opportunity to discredit the bad guys, yet no one else is trying to do it and I can’t do it all by myself.
    Discrediting them would point out a few facts:
    1. What happens on the border doesn’t stay there but spreads to other regions.
    2. Two of the cities listed are relatively far from the border; in Austin’s case it’s ~200 miles plus that’s a government/college town.
    3. No doubt many crimes committed against IAs aren’t reported.
    4. These attempts don’t measure non-violent crime. For instance, there’s a good possibility that some local officials have been compromised by criminals. Not only is that not covered by the statistics they cite, but articles like that work to paper over concerns about something as pernicious as officials being compromised.
    5. As noted above, the feds have basically ceded control of part of our territory to foreign criminals.
    For the facts about the wider issue, see my topics pages or search my extensive archives.

  6. Dave C says:

    One thing I’ve noticed about Libertarians and open borders is that if amnesty is provided (And with the democrats in charge, it goes hat in hand with immigration reform) is that the newly formed voting block will be decidedly democrat.
    Why give the Democrats that voting block and that much more of a chance to stay in power in their march toward progressivism and totalitarianism?

  7. mannning says:

    Perhaps these cities and areas along the border on our side are relatively safe, but. then, why is it that around 35% of California’s inmates are Hispanics?

  8. wr says:

    “Perhaps these cities and areas along the border on our side are relatively safe, but. then, why is it that around 35% of California’s inmates are Hispanics?”

    I don’t know, Manning. Why is it that in South Carolina a black man is three times more likely to be executed for murder than a white man? Does this prove to you that crimes committed by African Americans are worse that those committed by whites? If so, I understand why you’re a Republican.

  9. @24AheadDotCom
    Hey idiot, Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part 1 crimes, which make up the bulk of citation for “crime rates” (since it includes crimes that are just reported, but not necessarily cleared), include aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, robbery, arson, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. To make it clear, it reports more than just “violent crime”.
    Part 2 crimes, which are calculated based solely on arrests, include simple assault, curfew offenses and loitering, embezzlement, forgery and counterfeiting, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drug offenses, fraud, gambling, liquor offenses, offenses against the family, prostitution, public drunkenness, runaways, sex offenses, stolen property, vandalism, vagrancy, and weapons offenses.
    The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which agencies may or may not use, are even more extensive in the crimes that are reported.
    But what should I expect from someone that is solely interested in fear-mongering?

  10. steve says:

    “Perhaps these cities and areas along the border on our side are relatively safe, but. then, why is it that around 35% of California’s inmates are Hispanics?”

    The American Conservative ran an excellent piece on this.


  11. “Perhaps these cities and areas along the border on our side are relatively safe, but. then, why is it that around 35% of California’s inmates are Hispanics?”
    Maybe because 32.4% of California is Hispanic? And that 32.4% number is from back in 2000.

  12. legion says:

    Shorter JKB (and much of the hard right):
    Yes, the statements about crime & immigrants are complete lies, but lets charge ahead anyway with the proposals we based on those lies because argle fargle bobble.