Analyzing the Link Between Immigration and Crime Levels in the United States

Hello Everyone!

My name is Lauren McAuliffe, and I am currently a rising senior at the College. I am pursuing a double major in Sociology and Hispanic Studies with a particular interest in migration studies. Throughout my academic career at William and Mary, I have become increasingly interested with data that demonstrate how immigrant communities are effectively lowering crime rates. Through their capacity to reinvest “social capital” (as defined by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community) in underserved communities across the country, immigrant enclaves are having a positive impact on American society.

However, despite empirical evidence that immigrants are less prone to engage in criminal behavior than native-born citizens, and that the growth of the immigrant population over the last twenty-years has brought an overall decrease in crime rates at the local and national level, public opinion surveys suggest that many Americans believe that increased immigration leads to higher levels of crime. This fear of immigrant ‘invasion’ and the conflation of immigrant legality with assumed criminality, has become an ever more powerful force shaping local and state level policy measures regarding immigrant rights, access to social services, etc. The state of Arizona, for example, has lead the way in passing several pieces of stringent anti-immigrant legislation, such as SB-1070, passed in April, 2010, which allows local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of criminal suspects they believe are in the country illegally. HB-2281, another bill passed in Arizona within the same year as SB-1070, bans public schools from teaching courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. Government, in addition to courses that celebrate historical events demonstrating ethnic solidarity. The Mexican American Studies program has, thus far, been the only academic program to be targeted by HB-2281.

These instances of local and state level policy making are occurring ever more frequently as governments try to gain greater control over burgeoning immigrant communities. Georgia, for example, passed a bill almost identical to Arizona’s SB-1070 today, while states such as Virginia, among others, are also considering a similar approach to combating the perceived ‘immigrant invasion’. It is also important to note that legislation regarding immigration is a Federal authority. The U.S. Judiciary has thus been active in filing lawsuits against many of these state and local level policy measures (such as SB-1070) for violating the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Ultimately, what we are witnessing is a growing conflict between state governments and the federal government over who can control immigration legislation, and to what extent.

This summer, I will work as a research assistant to examine how national level anti-immigrant non-profit organizations frame immigrant criminality and the extent to which these frames have entered the public discourse. In doing so, I will continue compiling a database of nationally-oriented restrictionist groups (those with an 501[c] IRS status) that have established internet sites to promote their beliefs. Under the guidance of Professor Deenesh Sohoni, I will then develop a coding scheme to then analyze and classify the content of each web-site. Using both qualitative and quantitative content analysis strategies, I will work with Professor Sohoni to understand what percentage of these restrictionist organizations rely on ‘criminality’ as their main argument to promote immigration control in the U.S. As a side project, I will also help Professor Sohoni analyze how these aforementioned organizations eschew empirical evidence to make seemingly unbiased and factual claims that enhance their agenda against immigrant communities while garnering greater levels of public support.

Ultimately, the objective of this research is to connect the discourses surrounding the link between immigration and criminality to the paradoxical reality which demonstrates that, over the past twenty years, a growth in the immigrant population has been accompanied by decreases in crime rates at the local and national level. In order to make this connection, I will use data from the US Census Bureau and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) to provide a more in depth analysis of the relationship between immigration and serious crime at the national level and within states receiving high levels of immigration over the past ten years. I will then seek to connect these areas of high immigration states to any state and local level statutes restricting immigrants’ rights.

While assisting Professor Sohoni this summer, my personal objective is to develop a greater understanding of how immigrant restrictionist organizations are attempting to shape legislation (and the political sphere itself) through non-traditional methods. By working outside of traditional mechanisms of political representation (i.e. the ballot box) anti-immigrant organizations are contesting and attempting to re-define how civil society represents itself in front of the Federal Government. Furthermore, I am interested in how this process of representation via non-traditional methods is spreading to other states and is thus longer a tactic belonging solely to anti-immigrant non-profit organizations.

I will begin my work as a research assistant on June 1st and am extremely excited for the opportunity. I look forward to receiving any of your suggestions, questions, and comments as this is a new experience for me. I have read over some of the projects posted on this blog site thus far and am so impressed and honored to be working within such an intelligent community of student researchers. Good luck on all of your pursuits! Additionally, I would also like to acknowledge my sincere gratitude to the Chappell Research Fellowship for its generous support of this research initiative and to Professor Sohoni, for allowing me to work with him this summer.

Good luck everyone!



  1. lkfunkhouser says:


    This project sounds very exciting and I enjoyed reading this post very much! I personally had never heard that immigration is believed to aid in a decrease of crime rates, in fact as your research assumes, I had heard just the opposite. The only question I have is how you will be able to clearly establish the link between immigration and decreased crime. One could just attribute decreased crime to stricter regulation and prosecutions. I understand you will be focusing on the states which have experienced high immigration, but to be able to attribute the lower crime rates to this higher immigrant influx you would still need to look at the change in crime rate in the remaining states. I do hope that you find a strong correlation between high immigration and decreased crime, and I hope that this correlation can somehow gain as much attention as the claims of the sites you will be studying. Again, I find your project extremely intriguing and I wish you the best of luck!!

    Lyndsey Funkhouser