RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump talks a lot about threats to public safety from immigrants in this country illegally. Immigrant advocates say that demonizes an entire class of people. Now, three academic studies suggest that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. Here's NPR's John Burnett.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: President Trump often uses words and imagery that paint unauthorized immigrants as people to fear. And his aggressive immigration agenda has been driven in part by this idea of predatory immigrants. Here he is in March railing against sanctuary cities which he says...
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Release criminal aliens to prey on innocent American lives.
BURNETT: Trump's rhetoric also has inspired a number of social scientists to try to answer this question - are undocumented immigrants more likely to break the law? Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades cost a commensurate jump in violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. It did not.
MICHAEL LIGHT: Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period.
BURNETT: Those findings will be published later this month in the peer-reviewed journal Criminology. These same researchers previously looked at nonviolent crime. They found that the dramatic influx of undocumented immigrants similarly did not drive up rates of drug and alcohol arrests or the number of drug overdoses and DUI deaths.
LIGHT: We found no evidence that undocumented immigration increases the prevalence of any of those outcomes.
BURNETT: A third recent study by the libertarian Cato Institute looked at criminality among undocumented immigrants just in Texas. Texas records the immigration status of arrestees, creating a gold mine for criminologists. Cato found that in 2015, criminal conviction and arrest rates for undocumented immigrants were lower than those of native-born Americans for murder, sexual assault and larceny, which comes as no surprise to Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston. That city has one of the largest undocumented populations in the nation, and the chief has been publicly critical of the immigration crackdown.
ART ACEVEDO: There is no, you know, wave of crime being committed by the immigrant community. As a matter of fact, a lot of the violent crime that we're dealing with is being committed by people that are born and raised right here in the United States.
BURNETT: For decades, social science focused on crime committed by legal immigrants. These new studies are important because they are among the first to explore the link between crime and illegal immigration. The research proves what Acevedo and others suspected.
ACEVEDO: Having worked around this community my entire professional career, which, you know, it's about 32 years, I know that the vast majority of them that I've encountered are hardworking. They're here to earn an honest living.
BURNETT: But the new research may not make a difference in the immigration debate. Texas Republicans, for instance, have potent opinions about illegal immigrants. Here's former City Councilman Ronald (ph) Romberg sitting on the courthouse square in La Grange, Texas, where voters went for Trump by a 4-1 margin.
ARNOLD ROMBERG: I have no quarrel with anybody of any ethnicity whatsoever, but I don't like criminals, and I think that not having people be citizens leads to criminality.
BURNETT: And Ed Dykes, a local electrical engineer, says a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant is one too many.
ED DYKES: It’s actually immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not because they commit additional crimes. They are crimes that would not be committed. There are American citizens who’d be alive today if they were not in this country.
BURNETT: A recent poll showed that 7 out of 10 GOP voters in Texas support the proposition that every undocumented immigrant should be deported immediately, whether or not they've committed a crime here. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
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