By Nicolas Ajzenman
Immigration is a critical topic in contemporary political and academic debates. Politicians and the general population alike in countries around the world have often shown hostility towards immigrants.
A typical argument made by those who oppose immigration is that it increases crime. If people believe immigrants cause crime rates to climb, it’s not hard to understand a backlash. But what if immigration doesn’t actually increase crime, but affects perceptions about crime anyway?
Although most research shows immigration has either no impact or a minimal impact on crime, many people seem to believe the connection exists. It seems hostility against immigrants isn’t crime itself but false perceptions about crime.
The scene in Chile
My fellow researchers and I have explored this hypothesis in the case of Chile, a country recently exposed to a massive influx of immigrants. From 2002 to 2012, the proportion of migrants grew from one per cent to two per cent of the population.
In 2017, the same indicator represented close to five per cent and surpassed 6.5 per cent the following year.
Not only did the magnitude change, but also the composition of immigrants changed strongly in recent years, with the arrival of people from Venezuela and Haiti, similar to what happened in other Latin American countries.
A change of this magnitude raises a series of concerns, both regarding its impact on Chilean society as well as the country’s ability to accommodate diverse groups.
For example, a nationally representative survey on urban perceptions found that the main concern of Chileans about migration was citizen security (59 per cent), with economic concerns ranking third (46 per cent).
Unsurprisingly, politicians often refer to the effect of migrants on specific aspects of the lives of Chileans.
Not likely to be crime victims
In recent work with Chilean academics Patricio Dominguez and Raimundo Undurraga to be published soon in the American Economic Journal, we evaluate the impact of this wave of migration on the main concern of Chileans: crime.
We first document an interesting disparity: immigration has significantly impacted people’s perceptions of crime but has no effect on actual crime.
People more exposed to immigration inflows are more likely to rank crime as their first or second biggest concern. They’re more likely to believe that crime is affecting their quality of life, and more likely to believe that they will be a victim of a crime soon.
However, those citizens weren’t any more likely to have been victims of any type of crime in the previous months. Nor did the number of homicides grow disproportionately in the municipalities where they live.
In other words, misconceptions about crime increase when immigrants arrive in large numbers in a city. We also show that not only do people become scared, but they also take action, such as installing more alarms or paying for private security.
We then explore potential mechanisms underlying these main effects, testing different hypotheses.
A plausible explanation could be plain discrimination against certain types of immigrants. Specifically, we assess the role of ethnic-related inter-group threats. Those belonging to marginalized “out-groups” (people viewed as different) could be perceived as threatening to the extent that interactions with them foster anxiety and concerns for physical safety.
The role of the origin region
Using a measure of bilateral ethnic distance widely used in economics, we demonstrate that our results don’t vary based on the immigrants’ level of ethnic distance to Chile.
In other words, immigrants coming from ethnically similar or different countries than Chile elicit, on average, the same fear. Interestingly, we find that the effects on crime-related concerns are mainly driven by immigrants that do not have ethnically European origins. This result suggests that immigrants with European origins enjoy different status compared to other immigrant groups.
Additionally, we investigate the extent to which certain specific characteristics of the immigrant group may influence our results.
We show that the arrival of immigrants with lower levels of educational attainment may drive false perceptions of crime, even though the null effect on crime rates is the same for educated and lesser educated groups. Nonetheless, the impact on citizens in terms of behavioural reactions, such as installing alarms, appear to be more pronounced when immigrants are less educated.
Finally, we explore whether local media influences crime perceptions by measuring local radio stations per capita in municipalities.
Independent of whether they have a high or low number of local radio stations per capita, our findings suggest the effect of immigration on crime is minimal in all municipalities. But the effects on both crime-related fears and behavioural reactions are only significant in municipalities with a relatively large number of local radio stations.
Our findings hold significant implications for policy.
As Latin America is currently grappling with a severe migration crisis, our research demonstrates that the concerns of citizens and governments over the potential relationship between immigration and crime in Chile appear to be unfounded.
This is a noteworthy conclusion, particularly as crime is frequently cited in anti-immigration narratives by politicians and extremist groups.
Our results provide formal documentation for what has already been suggested by anecdotal and survey evidence — increasing fears about crime in the region can be attributed to the recent influx of immigrants, but those fears aren’t based in reality.
Nicolas Ajzenman is Assistant Professor of Economics, McGill University.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
A common problem with illegal immigration is you don’t control who is allowed to enter where they are desirable or undesirable.
Another common problem is they tend to be unskilled and suppress the wages on those types of jobs. Or they are forced to work below their skill level because they can find meaningful work.
Another common problem is they tend to draw government resources. State resources are expended in cleanup, rounding up, deportation, Medicaid, aid to children, and incarceration, etc…
Another common problem when they cant find employment they tend to get into trouble. Look at France and England where there are no-go areas that are too dangerous to enter at night.
But the real problem is that it’s a violation of the law. Some have failed to enforce the law. And some have encouraged others to turn a blind eye to this illegal activity. Don’t like the current situation, take action to update the laws governing immigration. Please don’t condone illegal activity.
art friedman says
Apparently the genius author does not comprehend the difference between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigration. Illegal immigrants break the law by coming here. Therefore there is more crime.
Your comment says a lot more about you, Timothy, than it says about immigrants. Let’s examine further:
“A common problem with illegal immigration is you don’t control who is allowed to enter where they are desirable or undesirable.” YOU want to be the controller of all who is allowed to enter the U.S.? Guess what… we already have laws pertaining to who is allowed and not allowed to enter our country.
“Another common problem is they tend to be unskilled and suppress the wages on those types of jobs. Or they are forced to work below their skill level because they can find meaningful work.” An immigrant is no more unskilled that the everyday teenager who just graduated high school and is looking for his or her first fulltime job. Any MANY immigrants are much more skilled than the average American who doesn’t even have a GED or had no desire to even go to a 2-year community college. And just how many college grads with a degree in hand are at first required to find a job below their skill level when entering the employment market? A lot, so your comment about immigrants who might also be forced to do so is meaningless.
“Another common problem is they tend to draw government resources. State resources are expended in cleanup, rounding up, deportation, Medicaid, aid to children, and incarceration, etc…” Yeah, no Americans who were born here ever draw government resources, especially welfare, aid to children, incarceration, etc. Wow!
“Another common problem when they can’t find employment they tend to get into trouble. Look at France and England where there are no-go areas that are too dangerous to enter at night.” You mean like the street corner drug dealers we can find in every American city at night peddling illegal drugs to make $$$ because they would rather do that than get a real job and be a productive member of society? Those are illegal immigrants? I had NO idea!
“But the real problem is that it’s a violation of the law. Some have failed to enforce the law. And some have encouraged others to turn a blind eye to this illegal activity. Don’t like the current situation, take action to update the laws governing immigration. Please don’t condone illegal activity.” Migration is NOT illegal. Being persecuted or targeted in one’s own country and deciding to leave and try to make a life in another country is NOT a crime. Many countries around the world also have broken or no real systems in place for citizens to lawfully seek asylum, so people who show up at the U.S. border and claim asylum are LEGALLY doing what they are required to do when presented to U.S. Customs. It then becomes OUR responsibility to process such a request, investigate and determine that person’s claims and eligibility to enter the U.S. or be rejected. But simply showing up at the border with a claim of asylum is NOT illegal and is within the rights of anyone according to the U.S. Constitution. You should read it so you can have a much better understanding of this issue, and maybe having a better understanding of what our nation’s Constitution says about migrants will help you overcome your prejudice of immigrants to our country.
Thank You Skibum. . . Right On!
Ray W. says
Regarding dangerous areas, my son finished first in his air traffic control class at A school in Pensacola. He was given first choice of assignments. He chose Kaneohe Bay, about 25 minutes outside of Honolulu. He told me that when he first reported for duty, he was given a map of the island with certain areas listed as no-go zones, day or night. He was told that if he was found in any of these areas by MP’s, he would be punished. He was given the impression that certain indigenous communities openly attack military personnel if one were to wander inside their territory.
At the time of his three-year assignment, there was a Hawaiian Winter League (now held in Arizona), where top prospects from S. Korea, Japan and Taiwan were sent to Hawaiian teams that also had assigned to them top minor league talent from American major league teams. For example, Ichiro Suzuki played in the winter league before being promoted to the Japanese major leagues. I called my son to urge him to take advantage of watching some of the games. For a young E-4, the $5 ticket prices would be a good spend. He asked where the stadium was. I gave him the address. He paused and told me he couldn’t go that the stadium because it was off-limits; he didn’t want to risk being punished or hurt.
The dude says
Someone fell out of the old racist tree and hit every branch on the way down…
99% of the crime and depravity around here is not perpetrated by “illegals”, it’s good old fashioned Murican depravity and crime.
Have you tried to hire locals around here? They are untrustworthy, if they even show up. And if they do show up, they rarely do decent work. Again… “natives” or Muricans.
Don’t even get me started on “no-go” areas… 2015 called… they want their right wing lies and scare tactics back.
MAGA is nothing, if not consistent.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Let me be clear, I encourage and support immigration within and according to the current laws of our State and Federal government.
I can not support illegal activity.