Immigration Makes Our Cities Safer. Even in Arizona

Illegal trafficking in both people and narcotics is a problem plaguing the Arizona border.  It’s why the Obama administration pledged 1200 National Guard troops near the border.  And supporters of SB 1070 would have you believe that it’s a crime wave tied to scores of illegal immigrants.  Not so fast.

Violent crime in Arizona, and other states that have a significant immigrant populations, has been consistently on the decline, especially recently.  For example, after a spike in 2006 and 2007, the number of  violent crimes reported in Phoenix dropped to 10,465 in 2008 and to 8,730 in 2009.  That decrease even includes murder.  In 2006 Phoenix had a murder rate of 234.  That dropped to 167 in 2008 and 122 in 2009 despite the consistent uptick in violence across the border and more concentrated trafficking networks.  But supporters of SB 1070 swear the illegal immigrant community is overwhelming local law enforcement resources.  What can explain these numbers?

Phoenix law enforcement chalks the drop up to their concerted efforts to connect and work with the immigrant communities–a task they claim will be made much more difficult by SB 1070.  According to Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, the new immigration law “takes officers away from doing what our main core mission is, and that is to make our community safe, and instead tells us to become immigration officers and enforce routine immigration laws that I do not think we have the authority even to enforce.  If you want to keep preventing violent crime, you do not waste your limited manpower on job-seeking “illegals.’”

Phoenix is not alone in witnessing a drop in crime while immigration surged.  El Paso, Texas remains one of the safest cities in the country with only 12 murders last year, despite the fact that right across the border a drug war rages in Juarez, Mexico.  San Antonio has witnessed a similar drop, while a city like Detroit that is not a hub for job-seeking immigrants has watched crime, particularly violent crime, continue to climb.

And what about the rancher Robert Krentz, murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in March?  As reported by the Arizona Republic and according to Arizona Border Patrol, Krentz is “the only American murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in at least a decade within the agency’s Tuscon sector, the busiest smuggling route among the Border Patrol’s nine coverage regions along the U.S.-Mexican border.”

This data, compiled independently by both the F.B.I. and the University of Colorado-Boulder shows that, contrary to political rhetoric from the right, immigration, and even illegal immigration, does not make communities more dangerous.  The research, which appeared in a peer-reviewed paper in the June 2010 issue of Social Science Quarterly, specifically avoids mistaking correlation for causation, instead providing the most compelling data to date to back up claims that the anti-immigration sentiment in this country is rooted not in fact but simply in fear.

The data is even more compelling than simply rebutting the ideological argument that immigration is connected to crime.  The evidence suggests that immigration appears to make the cities immigrants call home safer.  According to Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson, that’s because immigrants often move into neighborhoods abandoned by locals and often have tighter family structures which can stabilize urban neighborhoods on the brink.

And a crack-down in immigration may just have the opposite effect, much to the dismay of SB 1070 supporters.  Law enforcement officers like Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck notes that when immigrants fear being arrested for immigration offenses they stop cooperating with law enforcement.  These communities will withdraw further into themselves, making those immigrant ghettos ripe for exploitation and abuse and further marginalize, rather than integrate, immigrants into the American experience.  Not only does this make getting information more difficult for law enforcement, it increases the amount of crimes law enforcement needs to respond to.

These law enforcement officials also emphasize that creating a strategy to deal with the real problem of the trafficking network along the border is a very different thing than dealing with illegal immigrants.  Oftentimes those immigrants are victims of that network rather than perpetrators, another fact obscured by those championing the new immigration measures.

This is where the rhetoric on this issue needs some clarity and it needs some change.  Let’s distinguish between job-seekers and traffickers, employers and exploiters, and really take this issue head on.  That means talking about cheap and easy guns from the United States finding their way into Mexico.  It means talking about an American appetite for drugs that fuels cross-border supplies and violence.  It means talking about an assumption that strawberries in Minnesota should be available in February and they should be inexpensive–an assumption that fosters cheap agricultural practices and even cheaper labor.  It means talking about an American fascination with new construction and an economy propped up by a housing boom–all made possible only through the kind of cheap and expendable labor undocumented workers provide.

And when those like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer start having that conversation that’s when those of us who oppose SB 1070 will start to believe their efforts are rooted in anything other than fear and anti-Latino bias.

photo courtesy of recursion by recursion via Flickr


LMj Sunshine
LMj Recovering S4 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
LMj Recovering S4 years ago

Thank you.

Mary Carpenter
Mary C5 years ago

OK, then at what point do we say "enough" , and start enforcing our laws?

Paola R.
Paola R6 years ago

WOW so everybody thinks that whatever is happening in the United States is the immigrants fault. America always has to blame somebody and of course today is the immigrants. I don't get why people say that illegal immigrants don't pay taxes because its nonsense for them to say that. Is not like the cashiers in stores ask for the social security to see if they should pay taxes or not. Im not going to deny that some immigrants are drug dealers but does that mean that all hispanics are? Anyways im just want to make clear that immigrants are human and all they really want is the best for their family just because one messes up they all get blame. They do the dirty work of others and get minimum wage. I love this country but some things are just wrong.

robert p.
robert p6 years ago

bob m

bob m.
bob m7 years ago

ya; uh ..thanks hafiz.
well Zoraida; Crumbs; uh huh.
My point exactly.
like the old devert the attention thing used in the street to get the sucker to look away while he gets his wallet lifted.
wars , poverty, nafta etc.
All great issues. But. there's just a little matter of;
Ignorance of boundaries, laws, personal space, covetousness,
envy, lies, theft , mockery , racist doubletalk,hypocrisy,provocation,
gangs increasing, home invasion. and on and on.
just crumby little things But; I don't think that the real issues before us are being addressed at all.
I see a lota people trying desperately to call a crime a can of beans.
It's one thing to mock the integrety of personal space and boundaries; it just isn't nice to laugh at your victim while you have your hand in their pants.
A little respect might be nice.
Crumbs indeed. Nothing personal now.

Shoaib Zulfiqar
Shoaib Zulfiqar7 years ago

aslam u alikum , shoaib is here and i want to just share my coments , amarica wants to control on the earth because he have money he have total control of internet and good ideas too but my coments is that there is loot of difrance bitveen ''thinking and done'' , my idia for the amarican's is that he think for his thinking and done that work by islamic roals . i am 100% shore he done that thinking ''work''and no body refuse him . have a nice day . ALLAH HAFIZ

robert p.
robert p7 years ago

yes when you cannot take care of your own people, americans first and fore most!!!

Colleen F.
Colleen F7 years ago

Is it so wrong to ask America to simply welcome the tired, the poor, the yearning masses longing to breathe free?

bob m.
bob m7 years ago

The more you chop a salad the more useless it becomes.
Appreciate Obama but today the solution seems further away than ever after his speech. This salade is such that the individual parts are becoming more and more indistinguishable from each other.
Soon it will only be fit for the humus pile.
What was simple, clear workable is now smoked too much to recognize.
maybe that was the goal.
But at what cost?
Even if you accept the defence that You hired the cheap labour and gained from it. does it really automatically give the labourer
the right to live in your house.
I don't think so.