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Immigrants and Crime

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents an overview of the literature on immigration and crime. Section I discusses a number of considerations that need to be kept in mind when talking about a link between immigration and crime. Section II provides an overview of the research and data examining crimes committed by immigrants, including a historical framework, an overview of the research findings on the individual and the macro level—including a separate section on the criminal involvement of second generation immigrants—and a discussion of undocumented immigrants. Section III presents research and data on crimes committed against immigrants. Particular attention is paid to measurement difficulties in research on immigrant victimization, research findings on immigrant victimization, and the social control of immigrants post-9/11. Section IV assesses comparative and international studies on immigration and crime. Section V concludes with an outline of important areas for future research and provides suggestions for public policy.

Keywords: immigration, crimes, criminal behavior, undocumented immigrants, immigrant victimization, social control

Both the general public and policymakers have often seen immigration and crime as inextricably connected. While questions about the relationship between immigration and crime are widely discussed, clear answers have not yet been found. Whether speaking of an immigration and crime nexus means that immigrants are thought to be more criminal before they migrate (i.e., criminal members of the sending society tend to migrate more often than noncriminal members), whether they turn to a criminal lifestyle after settling in the new country (i.e., due to social, political, or economical exclusion), or whether they become criminal through the process of immigration itself (i.e., immigration causes immigrants, non-immigrants, or both to engage in crime), seems unclear.

Data show that “members of some disadvantaged minority groups in every Western country are disproportionately likely to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for violent, property, and drug crimes” (Tonry 1997, 1). This applies not only to recent or fairly recent immigrants and their children, such as Moroccans in the Netherlands, Finns in Sweden, or Turks in Germany, but to visible “racial” minorities as well, such as African Americans in the United States or Afro-Caribbeans in England. This trend also applies to groups that are long established in a country, such as aboriginal populations in Canada or Australia. One has to keep in mind though, that all minority groups with higher incarceration or crime rates experience some form of social, political, or economic disadvantage. However, not all disadvantaged immigrant groups have higher crime rates than the native-born population. In fact, most have lower crime rates. In addition, disadvantaged immigrant groups who are disproportionately represented in crime statistics in one country do not necessarily have high crime rates in another, despite having similar socioeconomic backgrounds and migration histories.

(p. 386) Research findings on the criminal involvement of second-generation immigrants show a different picture than for the first generation. Second-generation immigrants typically have higher crime rates than first-generation immigrants. In the US context, however, most second-generation immigrant groups continue to enjoy lower crime rates than the native-born population. In stark contrast, research findings in European countries indicate that some second-generation immigrant groups have crime rates that drastically exceed those of the native-born population.

While the specifics vary from country to country, Western societies are especially concerned about immigration and crime. Public opinion has frequently linked trends in immigration to social problems in the country, and members of these countries have been particularly concerned about a possible relationship between rising numbers of immigrants and levels of crime and violence. Data collected for the recent General Social Survey indicate that almost three-quarters of Americans believe that a rise in immigrant numbers causes higher crime rates (cited in Rumbaut and Ewing 2007; Feldmeyer 2009, 718).

These worries are usually initiated when crime rates increase (or are thought to be rising, even if they are not), during times of an immigration influx, or after exceptional circumstances, such as the attacks of September 11, 2001. In the context of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an automatic association has developed between the words “immigration” and “terrorism” (Portes 2003; Ismaili, forthcoming). Although none of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were recent immigrants to the United States, and the majority of the US population was (at various points in time) in favor of immigration before 9/11, surveys have shown that this positive attitude toward immigrants changed dramatically after 9/11 (Kohut et al. 2006).1

Along these lines, the most important conclusions of this chapter can be summarized as follows:

  • Popular opinion and theoretical assumptions notwithstanding, first-generation immigrants do not typically have higher crime involvement than the native-born. This finding does not only hold true in the US context but also in most other Western countries.

  • Similarly to individual level studies, research on the macro level shows that immigration does not increase crime. Some research suggests that immigration may decrease crime and has had an influence on the overall crime drop in the United States. Macro-level research particularly shows that the percentage of immigrant populations in a given geographical area is not positively associated with violent crime rates. If there is an association, it tends to be a negative one.

  • For reasons that are still up for debate, most second-generation immigrant groups experience higher crime levels than the first generation. However, despite having higher crime rates than the parent generation, (p. 387) second-generation immigrants in the United States and Canada typically continue to have lower (or similar) criminal involvement than the native-born.

  • In contrast to the findings in the United States and Canada, the crime rates of some second-generation immigrant groups in the European context drastically exceed the crime rates of the native-born population.

  • Sociological research suggests that the quality of reception and the extent of social, economic, and political inclusion or exclusion and other contextual factors in the receiving country are crucial factors for social integration. Weak social integration may be an important contributing factor to criminal involvement. Thus, the crime rates of immigrants seem not only to be influenced by their generational status but also by the reception and the specific opportunity structures they and their particular immigrant group face.

  • Generally speaking, most studies on immigration and crime draw on aggregate level data and do not take the heterogeneity of the immigrant population into account. Future research clearly has to pay attention to group differences based on generational status, legal status, reasons behind immigration, characteristics of the ethnic or national culture, assimilation, and social welfare policies of the receiving country.

  • Immigration research beyond criminology also stresses that we must emphasize the heterogeneity of both immigrant and non-immigrant populations in order to draw insightful comparisons. Building on this research, future research (quantitative and qualitative) on the immigration and crime nexus—though always subject to limits on available data—ought to take race, national origin, and ethnicity into account wherever possible.

  • Numerous studies have shown that second- and third-generation immigrants perceive social exclusion to a much higher degree than the first generation. As crime rates also exceed for this group, effective policy recommendations should focus on reducing social, economic, and political exclusion of the second and third generation.

This chapter presents an overview of the literature on immigration and crime. Section I discusses a number of considerations that need to be kept in mind when talking about a link between immigration and crime. Section II provides an overview of the research and data examining crimes committed by immigrants, including a historical framework, an overview of the research findings on the individual and the macro level—including a separate section on the criminal involvement of second generation immigrants—and a discussion of undocumented immigrants. In section III, research and data on crimes committed against immigrants are presented. Particular attention is paid to measurement difficulties in research on immigrant victimization, research findings on immigrant victimization, (p. 388) and the social control of immigrants post-9/11. Section IV assesses comparative and international studies on immigration and crime. Section V concludes with an outline of important areas for future research and provides suggestions for public policy.

I. The Immigration and Crime Nexus

The relationship between immigration and crime is highly complex, and it is difficult to answer or even comment on the question of whether there is an immigration and crime nexus. Although there is a large American and international literature on the topics of immigration and ethnicity (including work on race and minorities), surprisingly few criminologists have examined the relationship between immigration and crime. Recently, academics have become increasingly interested in the immigration and crime nexus, but published studies remain scarce. There are not enough data sources available to disprove any positive correlation between immigration and crime, even though historical and contemporary studies have consistently found that immigrants are, on average, less criminal than the native-born population and that immigration may even decrease crime rates. To complicate matters further, there is no consensus on what is meant by the immigration and crime nexus that is so readily talked about in both the academic and the public sphere (for a detailed overview, see Mears 2001).

When an immigration and crime nexus is discussed, most people automatically assume that it describes immigrants’ involvement in crime or the macro-level influence of immigration on crime. If this connection exists, a rise in immigration should demonstrably lead to an increase in crime rates at the national level. Countries with higher immigration rates should consequently experience elevated levels of crime, and cities like Toronto, San Diego, and New York, which have large immigrant populations, should be among the cities with the highest national crime rates. Ultimately, this assumption requires research to demonstrate that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born individuals, independent of their social, political, and economic conditions.

Even though many people readily assume that the relationship between immigration and crime relates to crimes committed by immigrants, we must look at the issue from several different angles. First, we must determine whether an immigration and crime nexus reflects immigrants’ or non-immigrants’ involvement in crime. Increasing immigration rates may have an interruptive influence in certain areas; non-immigrants (and not just immigrants) living in these areas may become more easily engaged in criminal activity. Furthermore, as incidents of discrimination and hate crimes illustrate, non-immigrants’ engagement in crime may be linked (p. 389) to immigration.2 Last, an examination of the immigration and crime nexus should also consider the extent to which immigrants will be victimized by both hate crimes and other incidents.

When considering an immigration and crime nexus, clear distinctions should be made between legal and illegal immigrants. It is possible that there are differences in the offenses (and victimization) of legal and illegal immigrants. Most studies cannot account for legal status, and accurate and reliable estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants are not yet available; in the United States, estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in the country differ on a scale of millions. Hence, very little can be said about the different offending patterns. It can be argued that undocumented immigrants are more likely to engage in criminal behavior because this may be the only way to earn a living. Given their vulnerable situation and illegal status, the exact opposite can also be argued: undocumented immigrants will do everything they can to comply with the law and to avoid contact with law enforcement officials.

Age groups and gender should also be considered. Research suggests that being male and young is closely associated with increased criminal behavior (Waters 1999). Because recent immigrants are disproportionately young and male, this group is more prone to criminal activity.

Additionally, there are significant differences between various immigrant generations. Almost all studies in Western countries show that first-generation immigrants have much lower crime rates than subsequent generations, independent of cultural background. Crime rates increase over time and with later generations, although there are some exceptions (e.g., first-generation Antilleans in the Netherlands; Engbersen van der Leun, and de Boom 2007).

Ethnic and socioeconomic background must also be considered when determining whether there is an immigration and crime nexus. Many studies merely look at the relationship between immigration and crime, assuming that recent immigrants are a homogeneous group. While this was the case during periods of high European immigration in the early twentieth century, immigrants today represent a very heterogeneous group.

In addition to different ethnic origins and socioeconomic backgrounds, individuals’ reasons for immigrating also vary and need to be properly assessed. The immigration and crime nexus may look very different for labor migrants as compared to asylum seekers or those who migrated to reunite with their families.

It is also important to distinguish between different types of crime. To date, most studies of immigration and crime look at the relationship between immigration and violence (Hagan and Palloni 1998; Martinez and Lee, 2000; Lee and Martinez 2002; Martinez 2002; Lee 2003; Feldmeyer 2009; Stowell et al. 2009), mostly neglecting other types of crime. Because anti-immigrant sentiments typically arise in times of economic downturn and scarce employment opportunities (Yeager 2002), it is important to remember that white-collar crimes and corporate crimes, (p. 390) which often influence employment situations when they are discovered, are usually not committed by immigrants.

The quality of reception in the host country is also a crucial factor (see Reitz 2003 and Reitz et al. 2008); the extent of social, economic, and political inclusion or exclusion and other contextual factors in the receiving country are very important. Turks in Germany, for example, not only experience social and economic disadvantages but the vast majority has also been politically excluded by not qualifying for German citizenship for many decades. On the contrary, Eastern Europeans who are ethnically German (Aussiedler) but whose families have not lived in Germany for centuries automatically receive citizenship and the rights that come with it upon their arrival.3

Taken together, the immigration and crime nexus reflects a number of issues and cannot be examined by measuring only whether immigrants commit more crimes than non-immigrants. However, most policymakers, members of the general public, and even academics4 have a very one-dimensional view of the immigration and crime nexus. Not surprisingly, the largest body of research concentrates on the question of whether and to what extent immigrants are involved in crime on the individual level and whether immigration increases crime as a macro-level process.

II. Crimes Committed by Immigrants in the United States

In many ways, Edwin Sutherland can be seen as the pioneer of criminological research on immigration and crime. In 1924 he suggested that immigrants are generally more law-abiding than their native-born counterparts and that it is acculturation to the United States that escalates criminal involvement among immigrants and their children (Sutherland 1924). To prove this point, Sutherland provided evidence showing that first-generation immigrants had lower crime rates than second-generation immigrants and that people living in their country of origin had lower crime rates than immigrants from those countries residing in the United States. Furthermore, immigrants who came to the United States as children were more likely to be incarcerated than immigrants who came to the United States as adults. Thus, Sutherland concluded that criminal involvement increases over time and with later generations. While his argument is nearly a century old, Sutherland’s findings are still supported by a great deal of evidence today.

Interestingly (and despite Sutherland’s early findings), not only popular opinion but also many theoretical approaches suggest that immigrants are more prone to criminal behavior than non-immigrants due to various cultural or structural (p. 391) barriers that they tend to face. Given the existing theoretical explanations, it is surprising that various studies have shown immigrants to be less involved in crime than native-born citizens. Contemporary theories focus on social-psychological factors (e.g., strain and tension from the acculturation process) or sociological variables (e.g., neighborhood and community disorganization) to explain a link between immigration and crime. Both perspectives are helpful in trying to understand immigrant criminality, yet they cannot explain why the majority of immigrants do not commit crime at a higher level than the native-born population.

While popular belief and major theoretical explanations suggest otherwise, most studies at the individual and macro levels have shown that “in many cases, compared with native groups, immigrants seem better able to withstand crime-facilitating conditions than native groups” in the United States (Martinez and Lee 2000, 486). This pattern generally holds true when looking at aggregate data. However, there are important differences between immigrant groups and generations. Hence, when looking at disaggregated data, immigrants seem to have both higher and lower crime rates depending on their generational status and the specific opportunity structures they and their particular immigrant group face in society (see also Engbersen, van der Leun, and de Boom 2007).

A. Historical Framework

The idea of an immigration and crime nexus is not new. Historically speaking, some early academics argued that there is a biological explanation for immigrant crime (see, for example, Henderson 1901, 247; Laughlin 1939). Following that line of thought, these researchers believed that immigrants were biologically inferior to non-immigrants (Martinez and Lee 2000, 488). Today, genetic explanations have been strongly discredited by the academic community as overtly racist in nature and are seen to have no empirical or theoretical value (Gabor and Roberts 1990; Wortley 2003).

Similarly to biological explanations, some researchers emphasized the importance of cultural differences in explaining crime rates across different ethnic and racial groups. According to this perspective, culture, cultural traditions, or culture conflicts, rather than socioeconomic characteristics, account for ethnic and racial differences in crime rates (Taft 1933; Sellin 1938; Curtis 1975; Hawkins 1994, 102; Erlanger 1995). For example, Italians were reported to have high rates of conviction for homicide in 1920s America, possibly because they used to conduct a certain degree of self-justice regarding honor-related incidents (Sutherland and Cressey 1960). Likewise, Lind (1930) conducted research among Chinese immigrants in Hawaii and found them particularly prone to certain types of gambling and grafting, which resemble Chinese traditions. Again, these approaches have been widely discredited among academics as they fail to explain immigrant involvement in (p. 392) crime that is perpetuated by or mirrors that of non-immigrant groups (e.g., gambling among black Americans).5

Other historical work on immigration and crime found that some immigrant populations slightly increase the American crime problem, yet stated that this is largely due to “difficulties of adjustment” and that immigrants are neither “inherently worse” nor in any sense “to blame” (Taft 1933, 77). Tony Waters’ (1999) work on the history of the relationship between immigration and crime in the United States demonstrated that in the rare cases when immigrants appeared to be more engaged in criminal activity than the native-born population, large immigration waves had resulted in disproportionately high numbers of young males in the country; being male and being young both positively correlate with criminal behavior (and victimization).

In 1901 the Industrial Commission issued a “Special Report on General Statistics of Immigration and the Foreign-Born,” noting that foreign-born whites were committing fewer crimes than native-born whites (Industrial Commission 1901). Another federal panel, the Immigration Commission, released its own study a decade later, stating that there was no satisfactory evidence showing immigrants to be disproportionately engaged in criminal activity (Dillingham 1911). Rather, immigration was believed to suppress crime rates. It was claimed, however, that southern Europeans in general and Italians in particular were more prone to personal violence, especially homicide; however, the data underlying these assumptions did not show this effect.

In 1931, yet another study conducted by the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (known as the Wickersham report) concluded that, on average, immigrants did not have elevated crime levels.6 However, the report found that some immigrant groups were disproportionately engaged in specific types of crime (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement 1931).

B. Research on the Link between Immigration and Crime

Both individual-level and macro-level research clearly suggest that at least first-generation immigrants have lower crime rates than the native-born population. Crime rates are increasing for the second generation in comparison to the first; however, some research demonstrates that the second generation continues to have lower crime rates than the native-born population.

1. Individual Level

Taken together, contemporary research at the individual level finds that immigrants are less prone to criminal activity than other populations. Numerous studies clearly indicate that on an average and on the individual level, immigrants have lower offense, arrest, or incarceration rates than the native-born population (though very (p. 393) little is known about the mechanisms that keep crime rates among immigrants at a low level).

However, research in this area is limited by the lack of relevant available data. Most individual jurisdictions do not collect any data on ethnic group differences, nationality, or immigration status but focus solely on racial indicators. Hence, incarceration data are the only official national data available that mention immigration status (McDonald 1997). Because research conducted by Hagan and Palloni (1999) indicated that immigrants (especially undocumented immigrants) face a higher risk of being incarcerated than native-born individuals, using incarceration data as an indicator to examine the immigration and crime nexus poses methodological problems.

Despite the fact that immigrants are more likely to be incarcerated, research has shown that immigrants tend to be less frequently imprisoned than their native-born counterparts (Butcher and Piehl 1998b, 2006; Hagan and Palloni 1999). Butcher and Piehl (2006) used 1980, 1990, and 2000 US Census data to show that immigrants are institutionalized at one-fifth the rate of the native-born population. Furthermore, recent immigrants were less likely to be institutionalized than immigrants who had been in the country for a while; this finding resonates with Sutherland’s point that incarceration rates increase with time spent in the United States. The gap in the incarceration rate between the immigrant and native-born populations increased between 1980 and 2000. Butcher and Piehl concluded that the process of immigration itself self-selects immigrants who are more responsive to deterrence than native-born individuals.

Comparisons of criminal justice data between non-border and border cities showed that border cities actually have lower crime rates (Hagan and Palloni 1999). Furthermore, neighborhood research in El Paso, San Diego, and Miami examined the link between immigration and homicide and showed that immigration is not associated with higher levels of homicide (Lee, Martinez, and Rosenfeld 2001). Specifically, Martinez (2002) found immigration to have either no effect or a negative effect on most types of Latino homicide.

Other individual-level research using a nationally representative sample also found that immigrants were less engaged in crime, including property crime (Butcher and Piehl 1998b). Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earl’s work (1997) on “collective efficacy” pointed out that Latinos are more likely to intervene to stop criminal activity than non-Latinos.

2. Second-Generation Immigrants

An important observation for individual-level studies is that crime rates seem to increase with later generations and time spent in the United States; Tonry (1997) called this the “not the foreign born but their children” phenomenon. Some researchers suggest that the increase in crime rates among subsequent generations (p. 394) can be explained by the role of assimilation in enhancing criminal involvement (Sutherland 1924). In that sense, the more American the subsequent generations become, the more do their crime rates approach the levels of the native-born population.

Alternatively, the increase in crime rates among subsequent generations might be explained by the group’s lack of an actively chosen and consciously decided immigration experience. Thus, the first generation may interpret experiences of “othering” and exclusion in the receiving country as actions of a few rude individuals as opposed to systematic discrimination (Viruell-Fuentes 2007). In sharp contrast, second- and third-generation immigrants seem to be more receptive to systematic “othering” experiences and are less likely to interpret them as isolated incidents. Instead, they tend to view them as processes of discrimination, marginalization, disempowerment, and social exclusion (Waldinger and Feliciano 2004; Viruell-Fuentes 2007; Bucerius 2008, 2009a, 2009b). For later-generation immigrants to become Americans (or Europeans), they must contend with and place themselves in the country’s racial stratification system; often, they are relegated to a disadvantaged minority status and therefore face higher risks of engaging in crime.

Another explanation could be that second-generation immigrants refer to a different comparison group when they evaluate their situation in the new country. Members of the first generation most likely compare their situation to the living conditions in the country of origin. Additionally, they are willing to defer immediate gratification in the interest of longer-term advancement for themselves and their children. In contrast to that, members of the second generation refer to the native population as their comparison group and soon realize that they are worse off than the native born.

Theoretically speaking, one could argue that the second generation shares the same cultural goals (e.g., a middle-class lifestyle and the American dream) as the native-born population, yet suffers more than the first generation from the fact that opportunities (such as education, jobs, etc.) are not equally distributed in society (Merton 1938).7 Consequently, they may innovate alternative ways to achieve success and take advantage of the illegitimate opportunities available to them (Merton 1938).8

Neither of these perspectives can explain why some second-generation immigrants continue to have lower crime rates (Kasinitz et al. 2008). Obviously, the specific opportunity structures they and their particular immigrant group face in society (Engbersen, van der Leun, and de Boom 2007), the parental human capital, the modes of incorporation, family structure (Portes and Zhou 1993; Portes and Rumbaut 2001), and the neighborhood in which they live may play a role as well (Shaw and McKay 1969).

Independent of the open question as to why the crime rates among second- and subsequent-generation immigrants increase in most cases, several studies could (p. 395) demonstrate that they actually do increase. For example, Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush’s (2005) self-report study on violence in Chicago found that first-generation immigrants were half as likely to have committed a violent crime as third-generation immigrants; the odds for second-generation immigrants were about 75 percent of those of the third generation. Morenoff and Astor (2006) similarly used a self-report study and found a linear increase in the level of violence for their participants across generations. Likewise, relying on data collected among Vietnamese youth, Zhou and Bankston’s (2006) study indicated that crime rates are higher among those who have been born in the United States. Rumbaut’s longitudinal data on arrest and incarceration rates demonstrated significant differences between second-generation immigrants and foreign-born youths in San Diego; the foreign-born had lower rates of both arrest and incarceration.

Tonry (1997) showed that these patterns appear not only in the United States but resonate internationally (with some variations depending on ethnic group, cause of migration, immigration policies in the respective receiving country, and generational status). It is important to note, though, that research in the United States demonstrates that second-generation immigrants continue to be less prone to criminal activity when compared to native-born groups (Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002; for similar findings in Canada see Hagan, Levi, and Dinovitzer 2007).

3. Macro level

Research showing the influence of immigration on crime at the macro level is scarce, and longitudinal research is almost entirely absent. This is particularly interesting because immigration is a macro-level process that unfolds over time. Large immigrant populations enter preexisting local structures and can either contribute to “structural factors conducive to crime” (and therefore increase crime rates) or “rejuvenate economically stagnant metropolitan areas” (and therefore lessen crime rates) (Reid et al. 2005, 758). As Ousey and Kubrin (2009, 465) point out, “virtually all empirical findings” to date “are based on cross-sectional analyses that do not measure over-time change in immigration, crime, or other relevant social factors.”

Various studies that have been conducted on the effects of macro-level aspects of immigration on aggregate criminal offenses (Butcher and Piehl 1998a, Hagan and Palloni 1999; Lee, Martinez, and Rosenfeld 2001; Martinez 2002; Reid et al. 2005; Ousey and Kubrin 2009; Stowell et al. 2009) support the argument that immigration does not increase violent crime rates and may even reduce violent crime rates.

Butcher and Piehl (1998a) analyzed the relationship between immigration and crime in several dozen US metropolitan areas. Although cities with large immigrant populations had higher crime rates than those with lower immigrant (p. 396) populations, when they controlled for other factors that may influence crime levels, Butcher and Piehl found no significant relationship between immigration and crime.

By combining 2000 US Census data and 2000 Uniform Crime Report data, Reid et al. (2005) looked at violent crime and property offenses and found that in some aspects (namely, recent immigration and Asian immigration) immigration actually lowers rates of homicide and theft in metropolitan areas. Additionally, after controlling for a series of demographic and economic characteristics, immigration was not found to increase crime levels in any aspect.

Ousey and Kubrin (2009) and Stowell et al. (2009) offer the only analyses that evaluate longitudinal macro-level data and assess various factors subject to change over time such as police force capacity, economic deprivation, demographic structure, family structure, illegal drug markets, and labor markets. It was concluded that increased immigration has a decreasing effect on the violence rate in cities. As in individual-level studies, their longitudinal analyses from 1980 to 2000 (Ousey and Kubrin) and from 1994 to 2004 (Stowell et al.) indicate that the macro-level process of immigration itself may buffer against crime and violence.

Sampson and his colleagues (2005) take this conclusion a step further and argue that the macro-level process of immigration may decrease crime rates and therefore be a key factor contributing to the overall crime drop in the United States in the 1990s (see also Reid et al. 2005; Rumbaut and Ewing 2007; Ousey and Kubrin 2009). This finding resonates with research conducted in the areas of education, health, and risk-taking behavior (Palloni and Morenoff 2001; Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Bui and Thingniramol 2005). As David Brooks (2006, A25) put it, “immigrants themselves are like a booster shot of traditional morality injected into the body.” According to this view, their high morals and work ethic contribute to an overall decrease in crime rates; for example, the relatively high marriage rates among Hispanics may lead to less family disruption and hence lower crime rates (Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush 2005). Moreover, there is some evidence that immigration bolsters two-parent family structures by lowering divorce rates in US cities; lower divorce rates are, in turn, negatively related to crime rates (Ousey and Kubrin 2009).

C. Undocumented Immigrants

In contrast to the immigrant population in US state prisons, undocumented immigrants (or illegal immigrants) seem to be disproportionately represented in the federal prison system; they accounted for nearly 27 percent of federal inmates in 2004 (Government Accountability Office 2005, 2). However, the federal prison population accounts for only 8 percent of the total prison population (Sabol, Minton, Harrison 2007, 3).

(p. 397) Unauthorized entry into the United States is a crime; hence, undocumented immigrants are automatically prosecuted under the federal system for committing immigration offenses should they be arrested. Imprisoned immigrants in the federal system, therefore, may additionally have committed a criminal offense or they may be incarcerated just because of their immigration status. Most immigrants in the federal system are imprisoned because of immigration violations, not, as is widely assumed, because of other criminal acts (Immigration Policy Center 2008, 2).

It is obviously very difficult to make accurate statements about the crime rates of undocumented immigrants. Many studies do not clearly distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, and estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the Unites States vary by millions.9 What is known, however, is that the number of undocumented immigrants roughly doubled between 1994 and 2004 and now ranges around 12 million (Immigration Policy Center 2008, 1). Border cities and other large cities with presumably large numbers of undocumented people (such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, or New York) experienced a decline in crime rates during that period of time. According to Zimring, in the case of New York, the decline was double that of the rest of the country (Zimring 2007, 140). This decline, then, not only appeared nationwide but also in cities where the presence of large numbers of immigrants might be expected to increase crime rates.10

Hagan and Palloni (1999) examined Hispanic undocumented immigrants and noted multiple problems with using incarceration data to draw comparisons between illegal immigrants and the native-born population. Undocumented immigrants who have been accused of a crime are more likely to face pretrial detention because of the assumption that they may leave the country before being sentenced. Being on pretrial detention, however, generally increases the risk of conviction. The study revealed that depending on the national origin of the accused, incarceration rates are three to seven times higher than the crime rates of undocumented immigrants relative to citizens. However, once specific measures like age and gender are taken into account, Hispanic undocumented immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born individuals (Hagan and Palloni 1999).

Some researchers suggest that the reason underlying the unauthorized immigration should be considered when the criminal behavior of undocumented immigrants is examined (Gottfredson 2004, 7). While some people illegally enter the country because of better legal economic opportunities, others enter seeking greater opportunities for theft or drug sales; these reasons play a significant role in determining whether undocumented immigrants are more or less likely to be involved in crime. However, research in border cities indicates that crime rates are lower in these geographical areas than in other cities in the country; these findings suggest that the number of people who circulate between the borders to commit crimes in the United States is not significant (Hagan and Palloni 1999).11

(p. 398) III. Crimes Committed against Immigrants in the United States

Crimes like sex trafficking, child labor, assault, robberies, hate crimes, homicides, and slave-like labor conditions have significant effects on victims. Criminological research, therefore, does not only focus on crimes committed by immigrants, but also on crimes committed against immigrants. Studies of immigrants as victims are scarce. Most existing literature focuses on ethnic or racial factors, yet few studies have examined the link between immigrant status and victimization.

A. Data Collection

Collecting data on crime against immigrants is difficult because immigrants may be afraid to talk to law enforcement officials and report incidents of victimization. Research has shown that even though immigrants have a more positive view of the police than do native-born individuals, they are significantly less likely to contact the police for assistance or to report a crime (Davis and Hendricks 2007).

Fear of contacting the police is probably intensified if victims do not have a legal status in the country and have to fear deportation when notifying the police. Although intensified community policing has helped to overcome this problem, with the recent decline of community policing in the aftermath of 9/11 (Arnold 2007), trust in the police is most likely going to subside. Under recently created memorandums of agreement, trained state and local law enforcement authorities are now permitted to “question and detain undocumented immigrants suspected of committing a state crime” (Ismaili, forthcoming). The likelihood that officers will stop immigrants in order to check their immigration status is therefore significantly increased, even though law enforcement officials are not officially authorized to execute random street-checks. It has been argued that this sends a very negative signal to immigrant communities; the police can make a community safe and counteract victimization only when they work with its residents and not against them (Harris 2006, 7).

B. Studies on Immigrant Victimization

The victimization of—especially—undocumented immigrants is probably not of primary relevance for most state officials, who are mainly concerned with prosecution, deportation, and security. Research has shown, for example, that neither of the two central approaches to combating human trafficking has adequately addressed immigration options in the protection of the victim. Neither the “incarcerating the offender” nor the “protecting the victim” model protects the victim of (p. 399) deportation. As a result, if victims comply with the law and provide stronger evidence with which their traffickers can be prosecuted, their own status in the country is at risk (Haynes 2004).

Other research on immigrant victimization examines the relationship between homicide and immigrant victimization in specific cities and across certain populations (Martinez 1997, 2002). Latinos in Miami with its large Latino population are found to face a victimization rate that is approximately half of that expected, given the population size (Martinez 1997). Lee, Martinez, and Rodriguez’s (2000) comparative study of Latino homicide victimization in Miami and El Paso found that Latinos were even less likely to be victimized in El Paso.

Some data on Muslim immigrants, however, reveal that discrimination against and violent victimization of immigrant youth is associated with the way immigrants feel they are portrayed in the media. Those who reported that the American media propagates negative and prejudiced representations of Arab people were more attuned to personal experiences of prejudice and victimization based on their ethnic identity (Wray-Lake, Syvertsen, and Flanagan 2008).

Research has also examined the mistreatment of barrio residents by state authorities (Goldsmith et al. 2009), finding that people who appear Mexican are more likely than the general US population to experience mistreatment. Additionally, the study showed that being a second-generation immigrant, a naturalized immigrant, or well-educated does not offer protection from mistreatment by authorities. This finding suggests that mistreatment is rooted in institutional racism rather than dependent on immigration status.

A body of literature on fear of crime among immigrant populations suggests that this fear does not decrease over time spent in the United States (e.g., Sundeen 1984; Ackah 2000; Lee and Ulmer 2000; Menjivar and Bejarano 2004). Most importantly, immigrants’ former experiences with crime and the justice system in their countries of origin, their contacts with US immigration officials, and the social networks through which they learn about the US police, crime, and criminals influence their fear of crime (Menjivar and Bejarano 2004). However, research on the fear of crime among immigrants lacks a native comparison group. Although these studies can make some statements about the fear of crime among certain immigrant populations at a given time, they cannot show whether the fear of crime in that population is higher or lower than that of other populations, particularly non-immigrants, living in similar neighborhoods.

Despite criminal victimization, immigrants face various forms of marginalization and discrimination on social, political, and economic levels. Naber (2006) describes the increasing difficulties immigrants have finding or keeping jobs, and the lack of security in their communities and urban spaces due to threats or hate crimes. Various studies show how particular groups of immigrants experience significant disadvantages in the school system and on the job market. Those facing disadvantages are not randomly distributed across nationalities but disproportionately originate (p. 400) from Mexico, Latin American, and Caribbean countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the West Indies (Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Farley and Alba 2002; Kasinitz et al. 2008; Portes and Fernandez-Kelly 2008; Rumbaut 2008; Telles and Oritz 2008; Zhou et al. 2008).

C. The Social Control of Immigrants since 9/11

Social exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination are not limited to educational institutions or the housing market but also occur in immigration policy. In the aftermath of 9/11, domestic US immigration policy has been increasingly intertwined with, if not substantially subsumed under, terrorism policy (Tumlin 2004). Reshaping immigration policy in the name of the “war on terror” is not only administratively significant, it also produces the notion that immigrants are suspects first and welcome newcomers second (if at all).

The US government launched several programs and initiatives12 in the name of the “war on terrorism” (for a detailed overview see Ismaili, forthcoming) that mainly target non-citizens (undocumented immigrants as well as permanent residents, green card holders, etc.). Most of these initiatives have a significant influence on ordinary non-citizens who now tend to face an emerging securitization in their everyday lives (Rodriguez 2008). Leading academics have come to think of this development as a “war on immigrants” (Kanstroom 2005; Ismaili, forthcoming).

Some researchers have argued that the definition of a suspected terrorist in the Patriot Act is so broad and ambiguous that virtually every immigrant, involved in no crime at all or involved in the violation of a minor immigration policy, may be detained (Cole 2002).

September 11 also precipitated a practice of racial profiling that legitimizes a presumptive suspicion against Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim individuals living in the United States. In sweeps following 9/11, more than 1,200 persons of presumed Middle Eastern origin were detained without charges or even links to the terrorist attacks (Volpp 2002; Tumlin 2004).

In addition to the increasing forms of securitization performed by state actors, the fear of terrorism among the general public has also led to increased surveillance of immigrants by non-state actors such as neighbors, public transport workers, co-workers, teachers, and classmates. Through these practices of everyday surveillance, the social marginalization of immigrants and their exclusion from mainstream US society has increased rapidly (Rodriguez 2008).

Scholars who examine the historical dialectic between immigrant detention and the racialized othering of non-citizens argue that contemporary policies following the 9/11 terrorist attacks are not new or anomalous but emerge out of the historic relationship between the United States and non-citizens (Miller 2002; (p. 401) Naber 2006; Hernandez 2007). Recognizing these various forms of marginalization, discrimination, and social exclusion is important because the quality of the reception of immigrants in the host country is one of the main indicators of successful integration into mainstream society (Reitz 2003; Peek 2005; Portes and Fernandez-Kelly 2008; Reitz et al. 2008). Associating immigrants with terrorism and therefore viewing them with suspicion may, in fact, contribute to weak social integration.13

IV. Comparative Research

Immigration is a macro-level process that evolves over time. Its outcomes very much depend on the particular political, economic, and social circumstances of the receiving society and the characteristics of the particular immigrant group. Thus, it is not surprising that the immigration and crime nexus takes on different forms in various countries.

A. Limitations to Rigorous Comparisons

When studies on immigrants and crime from different countries are compared, various contextual differences arise and need to be taken into account. An initial problem is terminological. Each country uses different definitions of who is to be called an “immigrant” and who is “native-born.” This question in itself already causes confusion in immigrant nations like Canada and the United States. Naturally, nearly everyone is a descendent of an immigrant, and members of the second generation (or any subsequent generation) could be called either “native-born” or a “second-generation immigrant.”

In other countries, however, terminology varies to an even greater extent. For example, like other official statistics on Germany’s population, Germany’s official crime statistics (namely the polizeiliche Kriminalitätsstatistiken) only distinguish between Germans (meaning citizens) and foreigners (meaning non-citizens). Hence, non-citizens are lumped together into one category regardless of their ethnic backgrounds and length of time in the country. Consequently, even second- or third-generation immigrants may appear under the category “foreigners” as long as they do not have German citizenship, whereas recent immigrants who can successfully claim citizenship status before immigrating fall under the category of “Germans.” Statistical comparisons between the United States and Germany (and other countries) are therefore difficult, if not impossible.

Moreover, countries have very different citizenship policies, influencing whether and how quickly an immigrant can potentially become a citizen. In other (p. 402) words, in some countries like Germany, the majority of immigrants will most likely always fall in the category of “foreigners” (non-citizens) in official crime statistics due to citizenship policies that make naturalization difficult. In other countries like Canada, the majority of immigrants will become citizens relatively quickly. Cross-national comparisons between citizens and non-citizens in various countries may therefore look at very different groups.

Due to limited data sources, countries like Germany can only compare the crime rates of foreigners and citizens. This in itself is highly problematic and tends to overstress the criminal involvement of immigrants (Drewniak 2004; Bucerius 2009b). The official crime statistics report as “crimes by foreigners” not only those crimes committed by non-citizens living in the country but also crimes committed by tourists or transients (who naturally do not appear in the population census data). Moreover, some criminal offenses can be committed only by immigrants who lack citizenship, and offenses against immigration law appear in the German crime statistics.

German research has also shown that victims’ willingness to report a crime is significantly higher if the perpetrator was perceived to be an immigrant or a group of immigrants (Wilmers et al. 2002; Mansel 2003). Additionally, labeling theories suggest that the chances of criminalizing an actual perpetrator are two to three times as high when the perpetrator is non-German (Mansel and Albrecht 2003). Naturally, ethnic profiling and intensified police stops in immigrant communities also increase the likelihood that immigrants are overrepresented in the crime statistics of any country. Moreover, similarly to findings in the United States, German research has also shown that convicted immigrants face more severe sanctions than their German counterparts (Pfeiffer, Kleimann, and Peterson 2005, 77ff.).14

B. Comparative Data on Ethnicity, Crime, and Immigration

Despite these limitations to rigorous comparison, a group of researchers started to gather comparative data on ethnicity, crime, and immigration in the late 1990s (Tonry 1997). One of the major difficulties that arose was that most countries do not collect ethnic identifiers for their official data systems. Some collect data on national origin, but these data often obscure important ethnic differences within a national-origin category. Therefore, cross-national comparisons of crime rates for different ethnic groups cannot be made. More importantly, comparisons of specific ethnic groups within one country cannot be made either, and research has to rely on self-report studies. As Tonry’s effort shows, European countries are particularly hesitant to collect ethnicity-related statistics, and the legacy of Nazi Germany has left most countries with an aversion against collecting such information. However, officially refusing to record ethnic identifiers does not keep police from collecting other euphemistic data that help to identify certain populations (Albrecht 1997).

(p. 403) Despite having had limited resources to compare national data on ethnicity, crime, and immigration, Tonry (1997, 12) concluded that the findings “are so robust and so consistent across national boundaries” that five meaningful generalizations could be presented. First, he concluded that for each of the nine countries, crime and incarceration rates for members of some minority groups were greatly elevated and exceeded those of the native population. Second, every minority group that was characterized by higher levels of crime or imprisonment simultaneously experienced some form of social and economic disadvantage. Third, in the countries that could provide such data, individual biases could not explain racial or ethnic differences in crime and incarceration rates. In fact, group disparities in offense rates seem to be the primary explanation. Fourth, although procedures and practices in the criminal justice system should theoretically be neutral, they worked to the systematic disadvantage of minority groups. Fifth, contacts with the criminal justice system were influenced by subcultural behaviors and stereotyping that worked to the disadvantage of minority group members.

Moreover, drawing on European research, the researchers working with Tonry came to the conclusion that the multigenerational crime model (i.e., the idea that crime rates increase with generations) is simplistic and only partially true for self-selected economic migrants (Tonry 1997, 22). Self-selected economic migrants from many Asian cultures continue to have lower crime rates even in subsequent generations. This finding resonates with sociological research in the United States, which shows that many second-generation Asian immigrants perform significantly better (in terms of education and economic employment) than their native-born counterparts (Kasinitz et al. 2008). The assumption that lower crime rates are found in Asians as they are less discriminated against was shown to be erroneous (Smith 2005).

Moreover, cultural differences between immigrant populations that seem to be in a similar structural situation can result in different crime patterns. In the Netherlands, for example, Turks and Moroccans arrived around the same time and in approximately the same numbers. Despite comparable migration experiences and histories and similar socioeconomic backgrounds (both groups are comparably disadvantaged socially and economically), Moroccans are disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated. Incarceration rates for Turks are not much higher than for the Dutch native population (Junger-Tas 1997; van Gemert 1998; Engbersen van der Leun, and de Boom 2007). This is particularly interesting, as incarceration rates for Turks in Germany are much higher than for the native population even though Dutch-Turks and German-Turks come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and share similar migration histories (Koopmans 2003). This suggests that the quality of reception and the perception of certain immigrant groups in the receiving country affect an immigrant’s integration into mainstream society and identification with the receiving country (Portes and Rumbaut 1990; Portes and Fernandez-Kelly 2008; Bucerius 2009a).

(p. 404) Tonry (1997) also argues that, all else being equal, the incorporation policies of some countries foster integration in a way that reduces crime rates among subsequent generations. Most importantly, Sweden’s immigration policies have been known to significantly reduce the “second-generation effect”; research shows that second-generation immigrants in Sweden show less criminal activity than non-immigrant Swedes (Ahlberg 1996).

Though unique in the European context, these findings resonate with Canadian research. Recent studies conducted by Hagan, Levi, and Dinovitzer (2007) and Dinovitzer, Hagan, and Levi (2009) looked at two different cohorts of youth living in a city just outside of Toronto with a large immigrant population; this setting provided the opportunity for a cross-generational analysis of immigration and delinquency. Very similar to the findings of US studies, the Canadian analyses found that first-, one-and-a-half-, or second-generation immigrant youth were not more likely to commit offenses than their native-born counterparts. In fact, the results showed that immigrants become more akin to the native-born youth across time and generations; however, even second-generation immigrant youth are still less likely to commit offenses than their Canadian counterparts. Following Tonry’s argument, this may be a result of Canada’s incorporation policies that foster integration in a way that decreases crime rates among second-generation immigrants.

Along those lines, Germany can serve as a counterexample, showing how a lack of timely integration policies can influence crime levels among the second and third generation.15 In the postwar period, Germany recruited millions of guest workers for its flourishing economy. As neither the guest workers nor Germany had intended for this relationship to be a long-term commitment, Germany did not create appropriate integration policies or many programs to assist its guest workers’ integration. While the majority of guest workers eventually left the country, a great number stayed and are now living in Germany with their children and grandchildren. Until recently, however, Germany has denied that it is an immigrant country at all.

The former guest workers and their families have faced various modes of social, political, and economic exclusion over the past several decades in Germany,16 making the informal economy attractive, especially to second- and third- generation immigrants (Chapin 1997; Shapland et al. 2003; Bucerius 2007, 2009a). While details vary from country to country, immigrants in other European countries with guest-worker histories like the Netherlands, Great Britain, and France face similar or even greater difficulties, resulting in elevated crime rates among the second generation that—for some groups—drastically exceed the crime levels of the native-born population (Smith 2005; Engbersen, van der Leun, and de Boom 2007).

Tonry’s comparative project also notes that the reasons for migration powerfully shape assimilation and criminality. Research on former Yugoslavian immigrants to Germany demonstrated that guest workers recruited in the 1960s and 1970s had lower crime rates than the native-born population. In comparison, recent research has shown that crime rates among war refugees from the same (p. 405) geographical area are much higher (Wetzels et al. 2001; Goldberg 2006; for examples in Sweden see Martens 1997).

Finally, Tonry notes that there are many immigrants who are not captured by any of the categories discussed in immigration and crime research. Academics from various countries have had a long history of taking jobs in the US academic job market (Welch and Zhen 2008; Hunter, Oswald, and Charlton 2009). Their economic, social, and cultural position does not pose any particular risk for criminal activity,17 and the crime rates of these immigrants (and their children) can be expected to be lower than the rates among the native population.

V. Implications

Although several significant studies have explored whether immigrants are more prone to criminal activity than non-immigrants, there is still much to be learned about immigration and crime. Some of these questions are addressed in the following section that outlines future research areas and policy recommendations. I make no claim that this section is complete.

A. Future Research Areas

First, there is a very basic need for future studies to clearly indicate whether the immigrants included are legal or illegal, first, second, or third generation, and economic migrants or asylum seekers. These factors are important in the development of knowledge about different ethnic populations and in understanding the immigration and crime nexus. Most importantly, future studies must move beyond the questions of whether and to what degree immigration and crime are linked.

Although previous studies looking at the relationship between immigration and crime controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status, unemployment, deprivation, some important factors have been overlooked in most existing studies. Because many families in various immigrant communities come from very traditional backgrounds, the divorce rate among their population is expected to be lower than among the native-born population. When we look at crime rates of children and young adults, however, they are higher among children from single-parent households. Therefore, controlling for family composition in future studies would help to explain whether immigrants are truly less involved in crime (if immigrants from two-parent households are solely compared with native-born individuals from two-parent households) or whether their advantageous family composition serves as a buffer.18 To fully understand crime buffers, it would be equally important to distinguish between single-parent households run by a mother and single-parent (p. 406) households run by a father. Moreover, controlling for religious involvement, extended family ties, and community-level collective efficacy in quantitative analyses may help us understand why some immigrant groups—despite their disadvantaged positions in society—seem to be resilient to criminal involvement.

Building on non-criminological immigration research that recognizes the importance of the heterogeneity of today’s immigrant and non-immigrant population, future research (quantitative and qualitative) on the immigration and crime nexus has to take race, national origin, and ethnicity into account wherever possible in order to draw insightful comparisons (see Lee 2003, 132). Because not all Western countries collect data on race, ethnicity, and national origin, neighborhood-level studies and ethnographic insights may be particularly helpful for understanding the constraints and dynamics of different groups.

Previous research has consistently shown that immigrants, on average, are not more involved in criminal activities than non-immigrants. Although this is a powerful and very important political message, it would be helpful if future research moved away from simply reproducing this message in various localities. Instead, there is a lack of knowledge about why certain ethnic populations are involved in crime at higher levels than the native-born population and why others are involved at lower levels.19 A number of studies have shown that certain populations are more easily socially and economically integrated than others with the same socioeconomic background. At the same time, research has shown that certain populations seem to resist criminal activity and experience much lower levels of criminal involvement despite having socioeconomic characteristics that are similar to those of at-risk populations (see, for example, Tonry’s (1997) discussion of Asian groups).

Future research needs to focus on micro-level studies and examine populations with high and low levels of crime in order to understand why certain populations are more resistant to high crime levels than others. The strength of inter- and intra-ethnic social networks, health status, the existence of or changes in community organizations and resources, the degree of resident involvement in neighborhood life, and the extent to which ethnic codes that tolerate or condemn crime may operate to shape the population’s involvement in crime all need to be taken into account. Qualitative analyses may serve best as a means to examine what factors are at play when similar disadvantaged groups have different crime levels. Additionally, qualitative research may help understand the “second-generation effect.”

Ecological factors may also play a significant role. Thus, neighborhood-level studies need to explore the micro-level processes that may serve as a buffer in certain immigrant neighborhoods and prevent high levels of crime. The literature has shown that inner-city neighborhoods in the United States with certain structural characteristics (including demographic, socioeconomic, and housing features) experience higher levels of violent crime (Krivo and Peterson 2000; Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002).20 Because immigrants have been shown to commit higher levels of violent crime than other types of crime, this finding seems (p. 407) especially relevant to the study of immigration and crime. Future research needs to focus on the processes that may buffer immigrant neighborhoods from high levels of violent crime despite their structural similarities to high-crime neighborhoods.

Studies using longitudinal data are scarce, and research on immigration and crime is limited because it has mostly looked at cross-sectional data in restricted geographical areas. Stowell et al. (2009) are an exception and have estimated pooled cross-sectional time series data looking at various metropolitan areas over a period of ten years. Future research looking at longitudinal data to investigate the immigration and crime relationship could be helpful for understanding the overall drop in crime rates in recent years.

Future research should also examine the effects of changes in immigration on other forms of criminal offenses. To date, most scholars have looked at the direct and indirect effects of immigration on violent offenses and have generally neglected other types of crimes (e.g., Martinez 1997, 2002; Lee, Martinez, and Rodriguez 2000, 2001; Stowell 2007; Martinez, Rosenfeld, and Mares 2008; Feldmeyer 2009; Stowell et al. 2009). The primary focus should move beyond levels of violence to examine the influence of immigration on other types of crime.

In order to understand fully the complexity of the relationship between immigration and crime, studies must also examine factors beyond the individual level. Contextual factors must be taken into account, especially when the situation of immigrants is compared across different cities and nations. To date, no study has attempted to capture these factors (e.g., the influences of the quality of schools, community resources, and local drug trafficking).

Currently, we know very little about the experiences and contacts of immigrants with law enforcement officials or courts. Additionally, our knowledge about immigrants’ experience as victims of crime is negligible. There is a great need for research that examines immigrants’ experiences with the criminal justice system.

Certain politically sensitive issues such as trafficking or prostitution (for a more detailed discussion see Chapkis 2003) require particular attention and need to be studied in their full complexities. Research on these issues has to challenge the distinctions between “innocence and knowing, between mere exploitation and severe abuse” (Chapkis 2003, 935) and needs to acknowledge that immigrant women can consent to economically motivated migration and sex.

One area that seems to be particularly understudied is so-called honor-related violence among certain immigrant populations. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter21 and the political implications that may follow, social scientists have been hesitant to look at honor-related incidents more closely. However, distinctions meant for analytic purposes as opposed to legal purposes may prove to be helpful to understand the phenomenon and to develop adequate services for people who are at risk. It is interesting that honor-related violence seems to be higher in European countries than in the United States or Canada. It is an open question as to whether the long history of immigration to the United States and Canada and their friendlier (p. 408) attitudes toward immigrants contribute to this or whether honor-related violence is not reported as such in these countries.

Another phenomenon that is equally understudied (yet also politically sensitive) relates to the very low crime rates of Turkish and Moroccan women in European countries. Popular wisdom among the German and Dutch population, for example, assumes that ethnic differences in gender roles (urging females to stay at home) contribute to the finding that Turkish and Moroccan females seem to have crime rates that are close to zero. However, systematic studies that can explain this phenomenon are lacking.

Lastly, research on immigration and crime completely overlooks the relationship between immigrants and the many organizations and institutions (despite immigration officials and law enforcement) that may shape their view of the particular host society (e.g., child welfare offices, schools, local government, day cares, and fiscal authorities). Future research in this area needs to determine whether there is a connection between the different immigrant groups’ perceptions of and interactions and experiences with these institutions and organizations and group differences in criminal involvement.

B. Policy Implications

Numerous studies have shown that second- and third-generation immigrants perceive social exclusion to a much higher degree than the first generation. As pointed out earlier, crime rates increase for second- and third-generation immigrants (in some countries even exceeding the crime rates of the native born). Although—on average—the subsequent generations in the United States continue to commit crimes at a lower level than native-born youths, they are (at the average rate) significantly more likely to engage in risk behaviors such as delinquency, violence, and substance abuse than their parent generation (Harris 1999; Bui and Thingniramol 2005). Hence, the main focus of policies regarding immigration and crime should lie on this population.

Tackling social, political, and economical exclusion of immigrants should be the highest goal of policies in every Western country. Naturally, priorities need to be different. While some European countries still have not granted citizenship rights to second- and third-generation immigrants and continue to exclude them politically, certain immigrant populations in the United States go to the most ill-funded schools in the country. Since the increase of crime rates among subsequent generations can be understood in the context of their perceived exclusion, promising policies will have to focus on reducing social, political, and economic exclusion and discrimination of second- and third-generation immigrants.

Numerous studies have shown that one key area in which second-generation immigrants experience disadvantages and exclusion is the educational system. (p. 409) Although the majority of second-generation immigrant youth are making educational and occupational progress, a significant minority are being left behind (Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Farley and Alba 2002; Kasinitz et al. 2008; Portes and Fernandez-Kelly 2008; Rumbaut 2008; Zhou et al. 2008). It is this minority (though significant) that policies need to draw their attention to. As Telles and Oritz (2008) have demonstrated in great detail, Mexican immigrants especially have been systematically excluded for multiple generations, thus suggesting that their situation in the United States deserves particular attention.

Policies that help educational attainment and improve the occupational situation of second- and third-generation immigrants must be a high priority. As research by Dinovitzer, Hagan, and Levi (2009) pointed out, strong educational ties may be the most important factor why certain immigrant groups have lower crime levels than native-born groups. In order to counteract exclusion in the educational system, research has shown that thriving and accepted programs for disadvantaged immigrants that strengthen ethnic networks and actively connect parents, schools, and community centers are needed (Henderson and Mapp 2002; Harris, Jamison, and Trujillo 2008; Portes and Fernandez-Kelly 2008, Bucerius 2009a). Bringing parents, schools, and community together is a means to significantly counteract social exclusion by enhancing family and co-ethnic social networks and thus, foster academic success.

Western countries in general and European countries in particular also need to rethink their strategy of policing undocumented immigrants. In the United States, prosecuting undocumented immigrants under federal law has an immense criminalizing effect on this population. Expanding temporary and permanent labor programs would not only reduce the criminalizing effect but also serve those sectors of the economy that are dependent on the presence of these laborers. Naturally, it would also help the undocumented workers to reside and work legally in the country.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Notes:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (1) . Several studies have shown that the public perception of Muslim immigrants especially has changed drastically (Gerstle 2003; Naber 2006; Hernandez 2007; Wray-Lake, Syvertsen, and Flanagan 2008).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (2) . This seems to be even truer for the European context than for the United States. Due to different citizenship policies, hate crimes in Germany, for example, are almost always directed toward immigrants who do not have German citizenship, whereas hate crimes in the United States or Canada can be racially motivated and targeted against citizens of different color (e.g., African Americans).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (3) . In contrast to the former guest workers living in Germany, Aussiedler are descendents of German emigrants who “migrated long before the creation of a German nation state (in the case of the Siebenbürger Sachsen from Transylvania as much as 800 years ago) to areas which have never been part of Germany” (Koopmans 1999, 631). Therefore, according to German citizenship law, which is mostly based on blood relations, they qualify for German citizenship.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (4) . Academics probably focus on finding evidence of whether immigrants are more or less criminal than their native counterparts because of the highly loaded political message of the topic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (5) . However, some new discussion about the role of ethnicity and culture is emerging in European countries that face disproportionately high rates of criminality among certain ethnic groups of second-generation immigrants (see van Gemert 1998 for a discussion on the role of Moroccan culture in explaining crime rates of the second generation).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (6) . The report compared the population over the age of fifteen and found immigrants to be half as likely to be incarcerated as native-born individuals. However, aggregation bias may underlie this comparison. Since the immigrant population was, at that time, older than the native-born population, the age difference between immigrants and native-born individuals may have significantly contributed to the finding that immigrants appeared to be less likely to be incarcerated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (7) . Somewhat similar to Merton’s ideas of blocked opportunities, Max Weber (1956) introduced the concept of social closures (more commonly known as the concept of social exclusion). He stated that a dominant group (e.g., the white majority) safeguards its position and privileges itself by monopolizing and restricting resources and opportunities for its own group while denying access to outsiders (e.g., immigrants). According to Weber, this entails singling out certain social or physical attributes as a basis to justify exclusion. Its purpose is always the closure of social and economic opportunities to outsiders.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (8) . Cloward and Ohlin (1960) developed Merton’s idea further, stating that access to illegitimate opportunities may be distributed just as unequally as access to legitimate opportunities. They agreed with Merton’s assumption that the deprivation of legitimate means produces a push toward delinquent activities, especially among boys from racial and ethnic minority groups. However, they stressed that the types of criminal subculture that flourish (if any) and the illegitimate opportunities depend on the opportunities available in the specific community (i.e., criminal role models, etc.).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (9) . Additionally, “crime” is also difficult to measure since, just as with “illegal status,” most criminal offenses remain unsolved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (10) . Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Rand 2007) as well as the FBI (2008) show that the violent crime rate increased for two consecutive years after 2004 and started falling again in 2007. Because rates of both violent and property crimes fell significantly during the 1990s while immigrant numbers consistently increased, it is unlikely that the rising crime numbers between 2004 and 2006 were related to immigration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (11) . Additionally, criminological research shows that offenders typically do not travel to unfamiliar areas to commit crimes (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (12) . Three examples include: The Penttbom investigation allowed federal officers to detain immigrants suspected of having ties to terrorism on the basis of immigration law. As a result, 762 non-citizens were held in detention facilities by August 6, 2002; none had any ties to the 9/11 events (Miller 2005). The USA Patriot Act (HR 3162), enacted six weeks after the attacks, allowed officials to hold immigrants indefinitely and with no access to lawyers should they represent a reasonable threat to national security (Byng 2008; Ismaili, forthcoming). A third initiative, the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS), was used as a tracking device for male Arab or Muslim visitors between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five from twenty-five different nations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (13) . This seems particularly important because weak social integration may represent a risk factor for criminal activities (Gartner 1990; Junger-Tas 2001).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (14) . Taking all these data limitations into account does not diminish the fact that crime statistics are significantly higher for second- and third-generation immigrants compared to the German native population (Walter and Trautmann 2003). Self-report studies among high school students are in agreement with the official crime statistics and show that immigrant students report a higher level of involvement in crime in general, and for specific offenses in particular (Mansel and Hurrelmann 1998; Oberwittler 2003; Fuchs et al. 2005). Goldberg (2006) and Wetzels et al. (2001) have been able to collect data on different ethnic populations and found that violent offenses are by far more likely to be reported by immigrant students of Turkish background (not accounting for generational status), followed by those of former Yugoslavian background, southern European background, and German background.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (15) . Germany has recently changed its official rhetoric—now accepting the fact that the country has become an “immigration country” and trying to make integration a new priority (Geißler 2007).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (16) . The great majority of second- and third-generation immigrants still lack citizenship, for example. Several OECD studies have also indicated that the gap in school performance between native-born individuals and second-generation immigrants is greatest in Germany; immigrant students are, on average, two school years behind their German counterparts (Bucerius 2008).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (17) . These groups may, however, have a greater risk to be involved in white-collar crimes. Traditionally, these types of offenses have been ignored in immigration and crime research.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (18) . Some researchers suggest that childbirth among unmarried couples will very soon become normative for younger Americanized immigrants. Therefore, pro-family arguments will fade with generations, leaving behind a generation of immigrants more likely to live in poverty and be single-parents (Oropesa and Gorman 2000).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (19) . Similarly, disaggregated crime rates of the native-born population (and not only the immigrant population) might offer new insights on why immigrants—on average—have lower crime rates than the native-born population.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (20) . Social disorganization theories suggest that in highly disorganized inner-city areas, where high resident turnover and population heterogeneity are typical, residents are not able to develop common goals and values or solutions to problems experienced by the community (Thomas and Znaniecki 1918–1920). Instead, conflicting and competing values develop very easily, and delinquency becomes a powerful means of gaining economic satisfaction and earning prestige. According to this view, immigrants are often sorted into these resource-poor, disorganized neighborhoods because they arrive without the qualifications needed to compete successfully for occupational and residential opportunities. Instead of viewing immigration as the cause of disorganization, this theory acknowledges that immigration and crime are interlinked through the social structural characteristics of the neighborhoods in which immigrants tend to settle (Shaw and McKay 1969).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (21) . There are two main concerns about using the term “honor”: it may easily be used to legitimize violence that would otherwise be treated as domestic violence; and particular cultures may be stigmatized and linked to this type of violence.