America is a country populated mostly by immigrants from various parts of the world. Immigration has been a source of concern in America, as there is a belief that immigrants considerably contribute to crimes that happen in the U.S. (Waters & Simes, 2013). In an attempt to control immigration, laws have been enacted with the recent one being Trump’s immigration ban. There is a perception that immigration has a mutual relationship with crime, and the expectations are that when the number of immigrants increases, the level of crime should grow. However, the statistics in place portrays a different scenario whereby the rate of crime lowers as the number of immigrants increases. The situation implies that there could be other factors that aid in loathing for immigrants. Therefore, it is necessary to establish whether it is true that immigration is correlated with crime.
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Harsh Anti-Immigration Laws
Most of the immigration rules in America trace their roots to the Immigration Act of 1965 famously known as the Hart-Celler Act. This act eliminated the quota system that existed since the 1920s and replaced it with the preference system that focused on migrants’ skills and family relationships (Waters & Simes, 2013). The system increased migrants’ flow into the U.S., which attracted the wrath of local population. They felt that their country was being taken over by foreigners. It led to enhanced campaigns from media and politicians petitioning governments to restrict immigration. Among the introduced measures were strict residency requirements and a strict visa screening program. Also, the government responded with programs like Operation Streamline, which facilitated mass detention, group trials, and deportations of undocumented migrants (Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbaut, 2015). The measures succeeded in reprimanding many migrants because of migration offenses, therefore positively contributing to the crime statistics.
Furthermore, states began formulating laws aimed at eliminating migrants; a case in point is California’s Proposition 187 in 1994 dubbed “Save Our State Initiative”. The bill proposed immigrants’ crackdown and encouraged the denial of essential services such as non-emergency health care and public education due to their criminal nature. It also demanded a state-run citizenship screening system to identify, detain, and deport unwanted immigrants (Waters & Simes, 2013). This law received widespread criticism, as it was seen as xenophobic and discriminating. Though the law was cancelled by the Supreme Court, it was an attempt to criminalize immigration. The law represented the views of most Californians who considered immigrants as criminals with most having voted in its favor at the referendum.
The formulation of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 enhanced the abuse of immigrants. The laws gave the government rights to detain and deport non-citizens whether documented or undocumented. They also accorded similar treatment to both minor and major crimes as well as those on probation and were applied even to crimes that occurred before their enactment (Ewing et al., 2015). The two laws made it harder for the migrants to escape the law, therefore increasing their chances of being caught as criminals.
Stereotyping of Migrants as Criminals
First, most of the population in the U.S. traces their origins to other parts of the world. However, many of them migrated to the country when there was no quota or preferential system in place. The reasoning behind the introduction of the quota system was that other nations were encouraging convicts to immigrate to the U.S. This belief motivated the formulation of the Immigration Act of 1924, which held criminals and prostitutes as inadmissible to the U.S. (Waters & Simes, 2013). It provided the basis for the growth of different stereotypes like “Mexicans are drug dealers” or “Italians are mafias”. According to Ghandnoosh and Rovner (2017), the likelihood of the non-native child to commit a crime is lower than that of the native-born child. The observation is that in the 1990s the crime rate was 730 per 100,000 individuals while the immigrants’ number was 19.8 million (Ghandnoosh & Rovner, 2017). In a further note, the crime fell by half in 2014 and constituted 362 crimes for every 100,000 people despite the immigrant numbers rising to 42.2 million (Ghandnoosh & Rovner, 2017). Concluding, the perception of immigrants as criminals is far-fetched and stereotyped.
Second, attempts to enforce legal immigration have already emboldened the existing stereotypes. These actions include the formation of the department of enforcement priorities to deal with the enforcement of immigration laws and hiring of additional personnel to assist in their implementation. The reasons behind the goal of the department are to maximize public safety and eliminate fraud with the priority being the cases with convicted of criminal offenses, unresolved crimes, or anything that constitutes a criminal offense (Homeland Security, 2017). All these efforts were rightful but presented immigrants as law violators and only strengthened the belief that they were criminals by nature. Nevertheless, tone cannot conclude that immigrants do not engage in crimes although their overall contribution to crime numbers is low compared to the native citizens. The factors that conduce to crimes are lower education levels and economic hardships as discussed below.
In California, most of the incarcerated young men are aliens. Further research indicates that their education standards in comparison with those of fellow native citizens are lower, particularly at the college level, and the situation is the same in other states. The lack of education makes immigrants uncompetitive in the job market, therefore minimizing their chances of engaging in meaningful economic activities (Butcher & Piehl, 2008). The result is that they have to participate in crime to earn a living as well as support families, which consequently explains violations of law.
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Hardships in New Environments
Moving from their native country causes challenges for migrants. Language problems and culture shocks are only some of them. That is why it is not only harder for immigrants to fit in the new societies but also harder for the new communities to fully embrace them. They are isolated and denied access to essential services such as health, education, as well as employment. With hardships and increased isolation, migrants resort to crime to earn a living.
Cultural and strain theories have been used to explain criminal behavior. The cultural theory suggests that due to culture shocks and contradictions, migrants find it hard to integrate into new societies (Waters & Simes, 2013). They adhere to their old values that confuse them in their new environs. On the other hand, the strain theory argues that due to their increased isolation by indigenous communities, migrants have no choice but to engage in crimes, as they have no means to live a morally acceptable life (Waters & Simes, 2013). Such being the case, it becomes easier to understand why migrants contribute to crime rates.
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Existing statistics disapproves the perception that immigration is correlated with crime. It shows that as the number of immigrants increases, the level of crime decreases. However, there seem to be other factors that play a crucial role in criminalizing of immigrants, and they include harsh anti-immigration laws and stereotyping. On the other hand, one cannot state that immigrants do not commit crimes. It is only that their level participation is lower compared to the local population. The reasons for crimes are lower educational levels and economic hardships. Although the belief that immigration is correlated with crime still holds, the available information proves otherwise; consequently, immigrants do not cause the increase in crime rates in the USA.