FBI Data, Scholars: As Illegal Immigration Rose, Crime Rate Fell

In spite of the political rhetoric surrounding the issue of illegal immigration, FBI data and scholarly research show that when illegal immigration rose in recent years, crime rates fell. The numbers also show that the national crime rate has been on a downward trend for years, even in destination cities for illegal immigrants. We talked to political leaders, law enforcement officials and researchers to try to get a handle on what all the numbers mean. We also talked to local leaders around the country about immigration and crime in their communities. Read the stories below.

The first casualty in the war of words over illegal immigration seems to have been the facts.

Political rhetoric about a wave of crime engulfing the nation from our southern border is flat wrong, according to widely trusted and long-used crime reporting data. Crime is down in the United States — nationwide and along the border. And, in a deeply ironic twist new research shows that immigrants of all kinds might actually make communities safer.

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A Tale of Two Counties

FAIRFAX, Va. — Over the last 15 years, an influx of Latino immigrants has dramatically changed communities throughout Northern Virginia. Two neighboring counties in the region have taken vastly different approaches in dealing with the change. Prince William County passed a law requiring law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of every person arrested. Corey Stewart, chairman of Prince William’s board of supervisors, says the tough stance has reduced the presence of illegal immigrants and reduced crime overall.

In nearby Fairfax County leaders have rejected calls to pass local ordinances aimed at immigration enforcement. Fairfax’s board of supervisors chairman, Sharon Bulova, says crime is down in her county too, even as it county embraces immigrants of all kinds. “We in this county have chosen not to not create what could be a poisonous atmosphere for our diverse community, a community we value,” said Bulova.

Stewart counters that the issue not diversity, but the rule of law. He wants to see Virginia adopt a statewide law that would require local and state officers to find out the immigration status of arrestees.

Violence Among Latinos

CHICAGO — In immigrant communities that struggle with crime and violence, local leaders and researchers say it is not newly arrived or illegal immigrants who pose a problem, but their children, the second and third generation.

Pilsen and Little Village (or La Villita) neighborhoods in Chicago, Ill., are good examples says Michael D. Rodriguez, executive director of the community group ENLACE-Chicago.

“It’s largely a rejection of society really in which these young people feel rejected themselves…” Rodriguez said. “I don’t blame people for feeling rejected and on the outskirts. As a community, we do have to take responsibility for the violence that occurs on our streets.”

Cook County, where Pilsen and Little Village are located, has been a large Hispanic enclave in for decades. Since 1980, it has been ranked among the top four counties in the United States with the largest Hispanic population. By 2008, Hispanics comprised 23 percent of the county’s population.

And like many counties with high immigrant populations, violent crime has declined since 2000. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security reported that Illinois’ unauthorized immigrant population grew by 24 percent between 2000 and 2009, and the FBI said violent crime in Cook County declined over 20 percent between 2000 and 2008.

Most of the crime that occurs these days, Rodriguez said, comes from gang turf wars in these predominately Mexican neighborhoods, pitting Hispanics from one neighborhood against Hispanics from another.