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The Myth of an "Immigrant Crime Wave, Part II"

My earlier blog focused on long-term California statistics showing Latinos, the most immigration-impacted ethnicity, actually show bigger declines in arrests over the last three decades than do populations dominated by long-term residents, such as Whites. This blog uses national prison statistics to examine another dimension of this issue, with the same conclusion: contrary to popular claims, the U.S. is not suffering a recent immigrant crime wave, legal or illegal, second generation, or otherwise.

For anti-immigrant groups who want our demographics to be restored to what they were in 1950, the fact is that the U.S., like California, is suffering a middle-aged crime wave firmly centered in native-born Whites and African Americans, the populations that dominated America for its first two centuries. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has used incomplete state tabulations to estimate national prison and jail populations by race/ethnicity and age since 2000. Comparing Table 14 in the BJS's Prisoners in 2008 versus the same Table 10 in 2005 reveals the following 3-year trend:

Prisoners under age 25: down 13,400
     White, down 4,000
     Black, down 11,300
     Hispanic, down 2,700

Prisoners age 40 and older: up 54,200
     White, up 21,700
     Black, up 16,600
     Hispanic, up 12,700

As in California, one can see disproportionate middle-aged prisoner increases that are roughly 10 times the increases predicted by population growth alone, compared to younger populations. This dramatic aging of the prisons population is driven not by longer prison sentences, but overwhelmingly by the aging of new felon admissions to prison. These, in turn, have been predicted by massive increases in Part I, serious felony arrests of age 40 and older going back 25 years. For example, among age 40-59, the FBI's population-adjusted arrests rose as follows:

     Violent crimes: 49,900 arrests in 1980; 139,500 in 2008
     Property crimes: 115,800 in 1980, 287,500 in 2008
     Drug offenses: 44,100 in 1980, 322,300 in 2008

Public health drug overdose and hospitalization statistics indicate the middle-aged crime epidemic is driven by burgeoning drug abuse, centered in white and black populations. The middle-aged crime epidemic, exactly the opposite pattern that would be predicted by an immigrant crime wave that should be centered in younger Hispanic populations, has profound policy implications.

First, America's worst crime and imprisonment problem is (and is increasingly) home-grown and middle American, disproportionately driven by citizens whose parents were citizens and who have lived here many decades. Second, the United States' persistent failure to control our burgeoning drug epidemic is a major genesis of serious drug-abuse related crime and spinoff drug-dealer violence in cities, border communities, and other countries, rendering our complaints about immigrant crime and border-area drug violence monuments to hypocrisy.

We're not suffering an immigrant crime wave, either short- or long-term, in California or nationally. Rather, the myth of an immigrant crime wave results from applying obsolete notions mired in viewing crime as the product of distinct population groups (i.e., "immigrants" vs. "natives," or "youth" vs. "adult") rather than in the complex, integrated contexts that 2000s realities reveal.

Keywords: crime trends, immigration, Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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