Immigrants and Crime
- Daniel L. StagemanDaniel L. StagemanOffice for the Advancement of Research, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The gap between public perception of immigrant criminality and the research consensus on immigrants’ actual rates of criminal participation is persistent and cross-cultural. While the available evidence shows that immigrants worldwide tend to participate in criminal activity at rates slightly lower than the native-born, media and political discourse portraying immigrants as uniquely crime-prone remains a pervasive global phenomenon. This apparent disconnect is rooted in the dynamics of othering, or the tendency to dehumanize and criminalize identifiable out-groups. Given that most migration decisions are motivated by economic factors, othering is commonly used to justify subjecting immigrants to exploitative labor practices, with criminalization often serving as the rationale for excluding immigrants from full participation in the social contract. When considered in the context of social harm, immigrants’ relationship to crime and criminality becomes more complex, especially where migration decisions are forced or made under coercive circumstances involving ethnic cleansing, genocide, or other state crimes; many recent examples of these dynamics have rendered large numbers of migrants effectively stateless. Experiencing the direct or collateral effects of state crimes can, in turn, affect immigrants’ participation in a wide range of crime types, from status crimes such as prostitution or survival theft to terrorism and organized criminal activity such as drug trafficking or human trafficking. While there is no available research evidence indicating that immigrants participate in any given crime type at higher rates than the native-born, the dynamics of transnational criminal activity—reliant on multinational social networks, multilingual communication, and transportation across borders—favor immigrant participation, though such crimes are often facilitated by multinational corporations.