March 19, 2008 / 5:34 PM / 11 years ago

Rising immigration not linked to crime rates: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Contrary to common beliefs, rising immigration levels do not drive up crime rates, particularly in poor communities, and Mexican-Americans are the least likely to commit crimes, according to a new study.

Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard University who studied crime and immigration in 180 neighborhoods in Chicago over seven years, found that first-generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violent acts than third generation Americans.

“Immigrants have lower rates of crime and there is a negative correlation between the trends,” Sampson said in an interview.

The study, which is published Contexts, a journal of the American Sociological Association, showed that incentive to work, ambition and a desire not to be deported were common reasons cited for first generation immigrants, especially Mexicans, not to commit crimes.

Sampson also studied data from police records, the U.S Census and surveyed more than 8,000 Chicago residents. The study showed there was significant immigration growth, including illegal aliens-in the mid-1990s, peaking at the end of the decade.

But during that time the national homicide rate plunged. Crime also dropped in immigration hot spots, such as Los Angeles, where it fell 45 percent overall, San Jose, Dallas and Phoenix.

Sampson argues that public perception drives a large part of the debate so its easy for politicians to blame illegal immigration for driving up the crime rate. Although it is difficult to point to any data to substantiate it, not many people question it.

“There is a pretty powerful underlying current of belief in society that is pretty resistant, stubborn if you will to the facts,” Sampson said.

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