How Border-Crossing Became a Crime in the United States

How Border-Crossing Became a Crime in the United States

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In the early 20th century, it wasn’t a crime to enter the U.S. Though authorities could still deport immigrants who hadn’t gone through an official entry point, they couldn’t be detained and prosecuted for a federal crime. But that all changed in 1929 when the U.S. passed a bill to restrict a group of immigrants it hadn’t really focused on before: people who crossed the U.S.-Mexican border.

“Before about the 1920s, most people don’t really see the border as a particularly problematic area,” says Julia Young, a history professor at The Catholic University of America and author of Mexican Exodus: Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War. Most immigrants came over on ships from Europe and Asia, so immigration regulations focused on ports of entry on the East or West coasts.

“The border patrol was only established in 1924, and it’s not exclusively to deal with migrants from Mexico,” she says. At first, it was also concerned with alcohol and gun trafficking during Prohibition, as well as keeping out Asian immigrants who might be trying to come in through Mexico.

Asian immigrants were the first group of people to be seen as “illegal” immigrants, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A few decades later, the Immigration Act of 1917 established an “Asiatic barred zone” banning almost all immigration from Asia. Still, it wasn’t a crime to violate these acts. The U.S. could deport unauthorized migrants, but it couldn’t prosecute them.

READ MORE: The Birth of ‘Illegal’ Immigration

Most immigrants at the time were coming from southern and eastern Europe, which did not sit well with U.S. nativists and white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who believed America should be a nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. In 1924, nativist politicians passed a new Immigration Act establishing country quotas that gave enormous preference to people from northern and western Europe over those from the southern and eastern parts of the continent, while still banning almost all immigration from Asia.

Nativists wanted to restrict Mexican immigration as well, especially as it increased over the 1920s as refugees from the Mexican Revolution migrated and southwestern employers sought cheap labor in the absence of Asian immigrants. However, lawmakers found this more difficult. agricultural industry relied heavily on Mexican labor, and the industry’s strong influence was one of the reasons the 1924 bill didn’t establish immigration quotas for any country in North or South America.

In 1929, a white supremacist senator named Coleman Livingston Blease proposed a compromise between agricultural and nativist interests: instead of capping the number of immigrants from Mexico, the U.S. could pass a law criminalizing those who did not cross the border through an official entry point, where they had to pay a fee and submit to tests.

These entry points were far apart from each other, and for various reasons many immigrants continued crossing the border in the same manner that U.S. and Mexican citizens had both done for many decades. “Entry fees were prohibitively high for many Mexican workers,” writes historian Kelly Lytle Hernandez for The Conversation. “Moreover, U.S. authorities subjected Mexican immigrants, in particular, to kerosene baths and humiliating delousing procedures because they believed Mexican immigrants carried disease and filth on their bodies.”

Blease’s law passed and became Section 1325 of Title 8 in the U.S. Code. For the first time in U.S. history, the law made it a crime for some people to cross the border. With Section 1325, unlawful entry became a federal misdemeanor on the first offense, and a felony on the second. Both charges could result in fines or prison time. And although the law applied to all immigrants, the intent was to restrict immigration from Mexico.

In the first 10 years after Section 1325 passed, the U.S. used it to prosecute around 44,000 immigrants. However, this was a small number compared to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of immigrants whom nativists rounded up and deported in the Great Depression’s “repatriation drives” out of a belief that Mexicans were a drain on the economy.

READ MORE: The Brutal History of Anti-Latino Discrimination in America

During World War II, prosecutions under Section 1325 decreased as the U.S. sought more labor for the war effort. In 1942, the U.S. started the Bracero Program to bring over more than 300,000 Mexican guest workers for short-term agricultural projects. This helped fill a labor shortage while many Americans were fighting overseas.

The Bracero Program continued until 1964, but even after it ended, the U.S. didn’t make prosecuting immigrants under Section 1325 a priority. Criminal prosecutors took time, money and resources, and presidential administrations opted instead to deport millions of Mexican immigrants without going through that process. It wasn’t until George W. Bush’s presidency that the U.S. began to prosecute people under Section 1325 more regularly.

These prosecutions continued under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Section 1325 is the basis for the government’s separation of parents from their children at the border, and could become a major issue in the 2020 presidential race. At the first Democratic Primary Debates on June 26, 2019, Julián Castro made headlines for calling on all of the party's candidates to join him in promising to repeal Section 1325.

READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About the Mexico-United States Border

United States Border Patrol

The United States Border Patrol (USBP) is the United States Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) federal law enforcement arm within the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The USBP is the armed and uniformed federal police that secure the borders of the United States by detecting and preventing illegal aliens, terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, and prevent illegal trafficking of people and contraband. [1] [2]

With 19,648 agents in 2019, [3] the Border Patrol is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States. [4] For fiscal year 2017, Congress enacted a budget of $3,805,253,000 for the Border Patrol. [5]

The current chief of the Border Patrol is Rodney Scott. [6]

Immigration and Crime

In the context of crime, victimization, and immigration in the United States, research shows that people are afraid of immigrants because they think immigrants are a threat to their safety and engage in many violent and property crimes. However, quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a criminal offense, it tends to be for a misdemeanor. Researchers suggest that undocumented immigrants may be less likely to engage in serious criminal offending behavior because they seek to earn money and not to draw attention to themselves. Additionally, immigrants who have access to social services are less likely to engage in crime than those who live in communities where such access is not available. Some emerging research has shown that communities with concentrated immigrant populations have less crime because these communities become revitalized. In regard to victimization, foreign-born victims of crime may not report their victimization because of fears that they will experience negative consequences if they contact the police or seek to avoid legal mechanisms to resolve disputes. Recently, concern about immigration and victimization has turned to refugees who are at risk of harm from traffickers, who warehouse them, threaten them, and abuse them physically with impunity. More research is needed on the relationship among immigration, offending, and victimization. The United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts during global crises that result in forced migrations. Poverty and war, among other social conditions that would encourage a person to leave their homeland in search of a better life, should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy.



  • Criminal Behavior
  • International Crime
  • Prevention/Public Policy
  • Victimology/Criminal Victimization
  • Women, Crime, and Justice

Updated in this version

This version contains updates on statistics, improved resolution of figures, and expanded bibliography. It also contains expansion of sections.


Citizens in the United States have been concerned with crime since colonial days, and they worry that they will be victimized by immigrants (Mears, 2001). The concern is based on the belief that foreign-born individuals are members of a criminal class (Jiang & Erez, 2018) who threaten community cohesion by committing a disproportionately large number of violent and property crimes (Barranco, Shihadeh, & Evans, 2018). Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, and assault. Property crimes include theft and fraud. Some other offenses that people worry about include crimes of habitation that involve threats against a person and their property (for example, burglary), and drug crimes. According to Zimmerman (2015), writing for Fox News: “Statistics show the estimated 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the United States account for 13.6% of all offenders sentenced for crimes committed in the United States. Twelve percent of murder sentences, 20% of kidnapping sentences, and 16% of drug trafficking sentences are meted out to illegal immigrants.” Are these sentencing numbers high? Are they low? Should there be a concern about crimes committed by both legal and undocumented immigrants? Research consistently shows that foreign-born individuals are less likely to commit crime than naturalized citizens in the United States and that immigration status may abate crime within a community.

Immigration Numbers and Patterns in the United States

The United States is the third most populous nation in the world, with a 2019 estimated population of 328.6 million people there are about 44.5 million immigrants who comprise over 13% of the nation’s population. 1

In general, the United States has been adding about 1 million immigrants each year since 1990 and in 2013 , there were over 13 million immigrants with permanent residency status. The most populous U.S. states are California (about 39 million), Texas (about 27 million), Florida (about 20 million), New York (about 20 million), and Illinois (about 13 million). These states also have the highest number of immigrants (Migration Policy Institute, n.d.b). California, New York, Texas, and Florida account for 60% of the foreign-born population. While it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of undocumented immigrants, various agencies (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, PEW Research Center, and the Center for Migration Studies) estimate the number of immigrants who either came into the United States illegally or overstayed their visas to be between 11 and 11.5 million people (Sherman, 2015 U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Between 2010 and 2014 , foreign-born persons were about 13% of the total U.S. population (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Size of the lawful permanent resident population.Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

In the early 20th century , the majority of immigrants to the United States came from Europe. Immigration changes since the early 20th century have been marked by changes in country of origin and other demographic characteristics. By 2014 , the percentage of Europeans living in the United States had decreased from a high, in 1960 , of 60% of the foreign-born immigrants in the United States to 11% (Zong & Batalova, 2015). Most European immigrants (62%) have become naturalized citizens although only 44% of the total foreign-born population presently in the United States have been naturalized (Grieco et al., 2012). Many new immigrants are coming from Asia, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2014), about 35% of the foreign-born population in the United States came since 2000 . About 75% of foreign-born persons in the United States are married and are between the ages of 18 and 44. Immigrants have higher birth rates than native-born women in the United States. Between 2009 and 2010 , 70.3 per 1,000 foreign-born women gave birth within the preceding year, compared to 51.5 per 1,000 native-born women. The Migration Policy Institute (2015) estimates that “Immigrants and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 80 million persons, or one-quarter of the total U.S. population.” 2 By 2018 , according to Zong, Batalova, and Burrows (2019), many immigrants who entered the United States had a college degree, and many were from Asia and Mexico. In 2019 , the United States witnessed the largest number of immigrants arriving at the southern border seeking asylum many of these immigrants traveled through Mexico from their home nations, seeking work and safety from violence." In March (2019) , there were more than 92,000 arrests of undocumented migrants for illegal entry on the southern border, up from 37,390 in March 2018 —the majority of whom were families, according to data from Customs and Border Protection” (Alvarez, 2019). According to a New York Times report, the immigration system in the United States may be at its breaking point because tens of thousands of persons are seeking to enter the United States at the nation’s southern border (Shear, Jordan, & Fernandez, 2019). The United States immigration courts have over 800,000 pending claims from immigrants who want to enter and remain in the nation their cases are taking an average of 700 days to process (Shear et al., 2019). In April 2019 , President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency. President Trump said “The system is full. We can’t take you anymore. Whether it’s asylum, whether it’s anything you want, it’s illegal migration, we can’t take you anymore. Our country is full, our area’s full, the sector is full. We can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry, can’t happen. So turn around, that’s the way it is” (Shear et al., 2019).

Crime Rate Numbers and Patterns in the United States

Arrest, sentencing, and incarceration rates have been changing in the late the 20th and early 21st centuries . Since reaching an all-time high in both violent and property crime in the mid-1990s, the numbers and rate of violent and property crime in the United States have been steadily declining (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015a), while the incarceration rate, until very recently, had been increasing. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report ( 2018 ), arrests decreased 20% between 2005 and 2015 between 2013 and 2014 , violent crime arrests decreased 0.2%, and property crime arrests decreased 4.3%. In 2014 , more offenders were arrested for drug crimes (1,561,231) than property crimes (1,553,980) and violent crimes (498,666) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015b). The states with the highest violent and property crime rates are neither the most populous nor do they house the largest number of immigrants. In 2015 , the states with the highest reported crime rates were: Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Tennessee, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arkansas, Delaware, and Missouri (Frohlich, Stebbins, & Sauter, 2015). In the United States, places with the largest increases in population have been associated with the largest decreases in crime rates in the past decade. The majority of arrestees in 2014 were white (69%) and male (73%) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015c). In sampled U.S. cities, Stowell, Messner, McGeever, and Raffalovich (2009) found that as the foreign-born, immigrant population in the cities went up, the violent crime rate went down (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Comparison of NCVS (SAE) and NCVS direct violent crime rates to the national averages, 1997–2011.

The incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world. In 2016 , there were about 2.2 million incarcerated offenders in jails and prisons a national incarceration rate of 655 inmates per 100,000 persons (Gramlich, 2018). According to Gramlich (2018), after the United States, the nations with the highest incarceration rates are El Salvador (614 per 100,000 people), Turkmenistan (583 per 100,000 people), Maldives (514 per 100,000 people), Cuba (510 per 100,000 people), and Russia (415 per 100,000 people).

Between 2005 and 2010 , the increase in incarceration within the United States was higher among U.S. citizens (16% increase) than among foreign-born persons (7% increase Government Accounting Office, 2011). The Minton & Sabol (2009) reported that, between 2000 and 2008 , the population of foreign-born/non-U.S. citizens housed in all U.S. jails was between 6% and 9% of all detainees. The estimated number of persons held in U.S. jails decreased 1% in 2012 , from a high in 2010 of 748,700, to 744,500 detainees the estimated number of persons incarcerated in U.S. prisons decreased 2%, from 1,521,400 inmates in 2010 to 1,483,900 inmates in 2012 (Glaze & Herberman, 2013). According to Mauer and King (2007), the sentencing of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States is disproportionate. While the disproportionate sentencing of African Americans has been documented for many years, Mauer and King (2007) noted that there has been a disproportionate increase in the number of Hispanic persons sentenced in state and federal prisons. They found that, in 2005 , Hispanics comprised 20% of the U.S. prison population, an increase of 45% since 1990 (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Number of Criminal Aliens and U.S. Citizens Incarcerated in Federal Prisons from Fiscal Years 2005 through 2010. Source: Government Accounting Office (March 2011): Figure 1: Number of criminal aliens and U.S. citizens incarcerated in federal prisons from fiscal years 2005 through 2010.

Figure 4. Foreign-born population in prison. Note: Share of prisoners shows the percentage of prisoners who are foreign-born, while share of population shows the percentage of the general population who are foreign-born.

Crime and Immigration Research

When looking at crime statistics, it is important to consider numbers, rates, population counts, and types of crime and victimization reported or under-reported. Social, cultural, and political changes can affect legal definitions of crime, sentencing lengths, and crime reporting patterns. It is simplistic to say that a state or nation has a “dangerous immigrant class” simply by looking at rates of crime or numbers of offenders arrested and incarcerated. Analyzing crime and victimization data requires researchers to dissect the data and examine it in light of criminological theory, cultural and social conditions of the crime, and the laws that define offenses and their punishments. Understanding the hidden nature of crime is also important, as some crimes are not reported to the police due to the nature of the offense or the characteristics of the victim. Fussell (2011) found, for example, that the threat of deportation may cause migrant workers who are in the United States unlawfully to forgo reporting their crime victimization and workplace abuse consequently, such victimization is not accounted for in official crime statistics. The context of crime, punishment, and immigration status affects, and is affected by, localized variables. Aggregate numbers about crime, victimization, and immigration are helpful for examining patterns, but more nuanced analysis is needed to fully understand the nexus between crime and immigration.

Immigration, Social Disorganization, and Social Control

When crime rates rise, criminologists attempt to explain them with community and neighborhood factors. Early 20th-century social disorganization theory suggested that crime was the result of a criminogenic foreign-born class who experienced the effects of strain and economic deprivation. Shaw and McKay (1942) addressed the rise in crime in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. They posited that if urban communities experienced an increase in population, an increase of persons living in poverty, and a decrease in the community’s racial and ethnic homogeneity, then crime would increase in areas with the most social disorganization. Because cities at that time experienced increased immigrant populations, it was believed that the spike in inner-city crime was due to the presence of immigrants.

Social disorganization has continued to serve as an explanation for crime in socially diverse neighborhoods. Sampson and Raudenbush (2004) analyzed the concept of broken windows in order to ascertain if a community’s view (perception) of social disorder is shaped by racial bias. Utilizing four data sets for Chicago’s neighborhood blocks in the 1990s, Sampson and Raudenbush found that how community residents and leaders viewed their neighborhood was influenced by the community’s racial composition. They suggest that negative perceptions of neighborhoods are shaped by racial bias rather than by observations of disorder. In this regard, Latinos (a large number of whom were Mexican immigrants) in Chicago perceived their neighborhoods to have significantly more social disorder when the neighborhood was at least a 25% African American. Sampson and Raudenbush (2004) could not fully explain the finding but suggested that residents and community leaders are primed to see social disorder in areas that have both poverty and a heterogeneous racial composition new immigrants might thereby view these neighborhoods as having more disorder than is actually occurring, due to historic perceptions about crime, race, and social disorder.

Ferraro (2016) examined the effect on crime in areas that experienced a recent increase in immigrants. Utilizing Uniform Crime Reports and census data for over 1,200 locations and 194 so-called “new destination communities” for Latinos between 2000 and 2007 , Ferraro tested the hypothesis that communities that had large increases in foreign-born persons would have greater increases in crime. By focusing on recent immigrants, Ferraro indicated that he would be able to test social disorganization for those immigrants who might experience the most tumultuous social changes in a city and to determine if they would be responsible for crime spikes in other words, would recent immigrants be prone to committing crime? Ferraro found mixed results in his test of social disorganization theory. While the rise in social disadvantage was positively associated with an increase in crime, changes in the immigrant population in a community were not associated with an increase in crime. Instead, places with more recent immigrants had larger decreases in property crime. Ferraro (2016) suggested that other theoretical perspectives showing that recent immigrants may be drawn to communities where they have social ties and employment prospects may mediate against social disorganization factors that presuppose criminal behavior in a community undergoing social change.

By analyzing national crime data and census tract data across 40 years ( 1970 through 2010 ), Adelman, Reid, Markle, Weiss, and Jaret (2017) found that immigration was consistently linked with declines in both violent and property crimes (specifically, murder, robbery, larceny, and burglary). They found that, as the foreign-born population increased by 1%, violent crime went down by 5 crimes and property crimes went down by 99 crimes. They concluded that the relationship between immigration and crime is complex and requires more analysis. Immigration is not just about the persons who immigrate, it might be about the neighborhoods in which people reside upon immigration. Kubrin, Hipp, and Kim (2018) found that there is a rich diversity among immigrants and the communities in which they live in the southern part of the state of California. By analyzing crime data between 2009 and 2011 and coding neighborhoods by census tracks, they found that a significant relationship did not exist between violent crime and immigrant concentration although they did find that violent crime was higher in Latino communities (immigrants from Mexico and Central America) and communities with immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine, and Israel. When they analyzed property crime data, Asian immigrants (Chinese) had low property crime rates when compared to immigrants from what Kubrin et al. (2018) termed the New World group of immigrants (persons who came to the United States from Italy, Cuba, and Ecuador). These analyses did not look at who committed the crimes and who were the victims—they only considered crime rates by comparing neighborhoods with various levels of immigrant concentrations. These studies suggest some support for the proposition that immigrants can revive neighborhoods.

Crime Commission and Immigration

With more refined data analysis, 21st-century criminologists are able to test the hypothesis that immigrants commit a large proportion of crime relative to their population in a community. To determine if foreign-born persons commit crimes in a variety of communities, Vélez and Lyons (2012) analyzed the relationship between crime and immigration in multiple U.S. cities. Vélez and Lyons used the National Neighborhood Crime survey to test whether disadvantaged neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrants have more crime because of economic deprivation or are able to abate crime if immigrants have access to social agencies that can provide social support. In 2000 , they studied 69 cities that had populations larger than 100,000, and they found differences in crime patterns when municipalities were distinguished as being either a gateway or a traditional city. Gateway cities have large numbers of newly arriving immigrants who, despite the economic disadvantages in the neighborhoods where they reside, have access to more resources to help them with their transition. In gateway communities, the amount of crime did not necessarily increase or decrease within the established immigrant neighborhoods. The researchers found that the infusion of social control agents (social support) was a protective factor against immigrants’ engaging in or committing crime. They posited that, rather than destabilizing communities, immigrants can create a stabilizing force in large cities when contextualized by neighborhood.

Stansfield, Akins, Rumbaut, and Hammer (2013) considered whether increased immigration in the city had an impact on serious property crime in Austin, Texas. They posited that having a “vibrant co-ethnic” community could be a protective factor against property crime. Using Austin city tract-level analysis and the city police department’s crime records from 2004 to 2006 , Stansfield et al. (2013) found no relationship between new immigration and serious property crime rates. They posited that the new arrivals might have revitalized neighborhoods by causing a bottom-up growth among Mexican immigrant commercial enterprises in the city. Thus, an increase in immigrants in the city’s tracts where high concentrations of new arrivals lived did not increase the crimes of burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft.

Ferraro (2014) analyzed the relationship between crime and immigration between 2000 and 2010 using Uniform Crime Report data. Ferraro found that, although U.S. cities experienced an increase in their populations during the 10-year period, there was a decrease in the overall crime rate and a reduction in both in violent and property crime. He found, similar to Vélez and Lyons (2012) and Stansfield et al. (2013), that crime was not associated with cities that had large immigration populations, regardless of whether there were long-established immigrant communities in the city, or if there were large foreign-born immigrant settlements formed within the previous five years. He suggested that the largest predictor of crime is socioeconomic disadvantage, rather than increased population or the number of immigrants living in a community.

Violent Crime and Immigration

Some people are concerned that immigrants are violent and engage in particular types of violent crime. To address this concern, Martinez, Lee, and Nielson (2004) studied drug and homicide crime in Miami, Florida, and in San Diego, California, to determine if there is a relationship between violent crime and immigration. Although both cities have large Hispanic and immigration populations, Martinez et al. (2004) found that foreign-born persons were not responsible for the communities’ drug and violent crime. The increase in crime was associated with second-generation youth, who were more likely to be involved in homicides related to drug offending in both communities. According to the researchers, segmented assimilation among second-generation youth can explain criminal patterns, since Mexican American youth in poor neighborhoods, despite cultural assimilation, committed violent crimes. If, however, immigrant families had economic stability (e.g., jobs), their offspring were not likely to engage in drug-related homicides.

Martinez, Stowell, and Lee (2010) analyzed the relationship between homicide and immigration in San Diego during periods of major increases in the foreign-born population ( 1980–2000 ). They wanted to test the immigrant paradox. The paradox is that despite social disorganization theory’s prediction that people living in socially disorganized neighborhoods will have higher crime rates, communities with large immigrant populations have lower levels of crime. Martinez et al. (2010) posited that immigrants exhibit strong social controls (education and mental health attributes) and rejuvenate neighborhoods that had been previously considered to be high-crime inner-city communities. While the researchers found that socially disorganized neighborhoods experienced increases in homicides, they also found that, when communities had an influx of immigrants, there were fewer homicides. Their findings suggest that while certain neighborhoods foster crime, if recent immigrants settle in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, the impact on the violent crime rate can be nullified.

Vélez (2009) studied homicide offenses in Chicago. She compared city neighborhoods that had dense populations of white, Hispanic, and African American residents and the homicide rates within these neighborhoods and found that homicide rates are significantly higher in African American neighborhoods and are closely associated with neighborhoods with a concentrated disadvantaged population. Neighborhoods with concentrated disadvantage are those with a large percentage of residents with incomes below the poverty line, limited employment of residents age 16 and older, many female head-of-household families, and high unemployment. She found that, in areas where there were large populations of recent immigrants, the number of homicides decreased. Vélez (2009) attributed this finding to the reinvigoration of neighborhoods when new immigrants arrived. She suggested that the new arrivals arguably want to strengthen ties with their neighbors, increase community organizations, and improve the local economy.

Sampson, Morenoff, and Raudenbush (2005) analyzed data for Chicago between 1995 and 2002 to determine if ethnic and racial differences in neighborhoods account for residents’ engaging in violence. They found that age, recent immigration status, and ethnicity matters when analyzing crimes of violence. Youth in all race and ethnic groups are more likely to engage in violence, and the level of violence peaks at ages 17 or 18. In addition, they found that recent immigrants engaged in less violence than their offspring third-generation immigrants had higher levels of violence than second-generation, and second-generation immigrants had higher levels of violence than first-generation immigrants. When considering race and ethnicity, African Americans had higher levels of violence than whites, and whites had higher levels of violence than Mexican Americans, even when controlling for neighborhood composition. Neighborhoods matter: if a neighborhood had a higher level of violence prior to changed social demographics (changes in the immigrant population), then the odds that persons in the neighborhood would engage in violence were significantly higher than in other neighborhoods.

Ousey and Kubrin (2014) also looked at the relationship between homicides and immigration. They analyzed Uniform Crime Report data from 156 cities for four specific years and covering four decades ( 1980 , 1990 , 2000 , and 2010 ). To determine if various subtypes of homicide were related to immigration status, Ousey and Kubrin distinguished among homicide offenses committed due to an argument (lovers’ triangle, money, brawls related to alcohol or drugs), drug-related offenses (narcotics buying, selling, or distribution), and gang-related offenses (youth gang and gangland killings). They presupposed that certain subtypes of homicide would be associated with immigration status (cities with a percentage of foreign-born and Hispanic residents). In general, they found that cities with increases in recent immigrants had the lowest rates of homicide. Ousey and Kubrin (2014) also found that cities with above-average immigration populations also experienced sharp decreases in all subtypes of homicide.

Gostjev and Nielsen (2017) analyzed English language fluency and the presence bilingual Spanish speakers in 91 large cities in the United States to determine if there is a relationship between fluency and the violent crime rates of homicide and robbery. Using census tract data and the National Neighborhood Crime Study data between the years 1999 and 2001 , Gostjev & Nielsen found that there is a non-linear relationship between non-fluency and violent crime. They found differing levels of significance between fluency and violent crime when they controlled for type of neighborhood (traditional or new destination), communities with youth who are bilingual, and type of crime (homicide or robbery). Levels of fluency and bilingualism can shape community cohesion in traditional and new destination neighborhoods. In regard to homicide offenses, homicides rates were attenuated when communities had more bilingual speakers, although there was not a significant difference between homicide rates in traditional or new communities and the presence of English non-fluent/bilingual speakers. For robbery crimes, violent crime rates were impacted by immigrant concentrations in neighborhoods with economic disadvantage, residential instability, community heterogeneity, and a higher percentage of male youth. Overall, Gostjev and Nielsen (2017, p. 133) concluded “that greater levels of English nonfluency were associated with higher levels of violence until such English nonfluency concentrations reached certain levels.” Their findings suggest that, in regard to homicide and robbery offenses, the inability of residents to speak English affects violent crime as more youth begin to speak English, then violent crime might be ameliorated until a community becomes more heterogeneous and there are more adult bilingual residents.

Generational Patterns, Immigration, and Crime

Studies on immigration and crime should consider generational patterns of crime. The so-called immigrant paradox was found to apply to juvenile immigrants. Desmond (2009), in a study using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, analyzed whether communities with a high concentration of immigrant youth had increased violent crime levels. He found that when immigrant children are compared with their nonimmigrant peers, the immigrant youth are less violent and have better academic, social, and psychological adjustment scores. As with other researchers who considered the paradox, Desmond (2009) found that, despite perceptions to the contrary, immigrant youth have fewer deviant behaviors (fewer violent crime behaviors) than native-born persons. In particular, he found that immigrant Hispanic and Asian youth had lower levels of violence than their nonimmigrant peers. However, he also found that foreign-born black youth were more likely to engage in violence than their native-born black peers. Thus, while immigration reduces violent crime in communities with a concentration of immigrant youth, the protective effect of high immigrant populations may not apply to all immigrant groups or communities.

Sampson (2008) similarly found support for a Latino paradox in that communities that had the lowest violent crime rates in the United States had the most diverse neighborhoods. He stated: “Notably, we found a significantly lower rate of violence among Mexican-Americans compared to blacks and whites. . . . In particular, first-generation immigrants (those born outside the United States) were 45% less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans, adjusting for individual, family, and neighborhood background” (Sampson, 2008, p. 29). Sampson contended that immigrants can promote social controls even in extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods in this manner, immigration can cause violent crime rates to go down.

To understand the effect of immigration on behavior, Salas-Wright, Vaughn, Schwartz, and Córdova (2015) compared immigrant youth and U.S.-born youth to determine if they experience different externalizing behaviors due to moderating factors like cohesive parental relationships, positive school engagement, and negative views on drug use. Salas-Wright et al. found that, with the exception of fighting behaviors, recent immigrant youth were less likely to self-report criminal behaviors than similarly situated groups of youth born in the United States. The differences between the youth, according to Salas-Wright et al. (2015), can be attributed to the immigrant youth’s having more prosocial support from their parents and schools. The researchers’ finding was consistent no matter whether the immigrant youth were recent arrivals or had come to the United States over 5 years before the study and as young children.

Bersani, Loughran, and Piquero (2014) studied the transitional time period from adolescence into adulthood to determine if immigrants and their offspring living in disadvantaged neighborhoods will have more risk or protective factors for crime. Using data from the Pathways to Desistance study, Bersani et al. (2014) looked at youth who were convicted of a serious crime and age 14 to 17 at baseline in two counties (Maricopa County, Arizona, and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania). They collected data on the youths’ recidivism over 36 months to ascertain if there is a difference in immigration–crime trajectories among youth who were more assimilated than those who were less assimilated in their communities. The researchers found less reoffending among first-generation immigrants than among second-generation youth. The study found that immigration status can be a buffer against serious crime or offending behavior, and most of the first-generation youth offenders were early or low desisters. Among second-generation immigrant youth, if they lived in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, then the social disorganization of the place where they resided could have been a possible intervening variable that explained persistent offending behaviors regardless of race or ethnicity. Bersani et al. (2014) concluded that it is important to study how adolescent immigrants acculturate into a community, particularly if it has high crime rates and other factors associated with social disadvantage.

Bersani and Piquero (2017) confirmed the generational effects of immigration and crime by considering whether there is a bias in crime reporting. They wanted to know whether the immigrants might be less likely to report crime than non-immigrants. To test the bias hypothesis, they analyzed self-reported crime and official crime data for first generation (immigrants born outside the United States), second generation (having at least one parent who is foreign born) and third generation (both parents born in the United States) youth across seven years of longitudinal data collected in two counties as part of the Pathways to Desistance Study. All youth had been initially arrested for a crime and then had follow-up survey waves from their youth into early adulthood. The majority of immigrant youth in their sample were Hispanic (Mexican in Maricopa County and Puerto Rican in Philadelphia County). While the youth all had similar baseline arrest rates regardless of generational status, the mean arrest rates for each successive generation went up over time. Even when controlling for age, gender, race, ethnicity, criminal history, and the time a person was incarcerated, Bersani and Piquero (2017) found that first-generation immigrants were associated with less self-reported offending and self-reported arrests. Interestingly, they found that first and second-generation immigrants might over-report offending behavior when compared to official arrest data. Thus, foreign-born immigrants are not likely to have a bias in reporting crime to the police.

In a unique analysis of how immigrant neighborhood concentration can be a protective factor on youth offending, Wolff, Intravia, Baglivio, and Piquero (2018) analyzed data on youthful offenders in the State of Florida. Wolff et al. utilized youth community-based supervision data collected by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice between 2009 and 2012 . Their sample consisted of 26,242 youth who had a full risk/need assessment. Each youth was individually tracked for 365 days (one year) from the time that they were placed on supervision and their recidivism was recorded 25% of the sample recidivated. In their analysis of who recidivated and who did not, Wolff et al. found that neighborhoods in which the youth lived mattered neighborhoods with high immigrant concentrations was significantly related to lower recidivism and neighborhoods with high concentrations of disadvantage were significantly related to recidivism. When addressing individual mediators to recidivism, the researchers found that communities with “higher levels of immigrant concentration were associated with a greater number of youth living with both of their parents . . . and fewer youth who have parents with a history of being incarcerated. . . . At the same time, areas with higher levels of disadvantage were significantly inversely related to living with both parents as well as familial incarceration history” (Wolff et al., 2018, p. 1287).

Illegal Immigration and Crime

Despite recent research that shows the lack of a direct connection between immigration and increases in crime, the American public still believes that immigrants are dangerous. The studies analyzed in this article looked at overall immigration and did not specifically address the portion of crime associated with illegal immigration. Illegal immigration occurs when a person unlawfully enters the United States or overstays their visa once in the country. The perception that all undocumented immigrants have nefariously crossed the U.S. border may not be accurate it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of undocumented immigrants in the United States have overstayed their visas (Blondell, 2008 Metcalf, 2011). According to the Migration Policy Institute (n.d.a), the number of unauthorized persons residing in the United States is about 11,300,000 slightly more than half of these persons are from Mexico (53%), and most of the persons who are over 16 years of age are employed (10,491,000 or 67%). More refined analysis regarding legal and illegal immigration and crime has been done by researchers in recent years (Migration Policy Institute, n.d.a).

Researchers in the United States have begun to distinguish between the act of being an undocumented immigrant, which is illegal, and crimes committed by immigrants. Metcalf (2011), for example, found that if an undocumented immigrant is processed by an immigration court for deportation, deportation is most likely to actually occur if the person committed a serious felony. Under federal law, a serious felony for deportation purposes includes misdemeanors with a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year (Medrano, 2018). Immigrants who are subject to deportation can be detained without bond (Nielsen v. Preape, 2019) and without periodic bond release hearings (Jennings v. Rodriguez, 2018).

To analyze whether illegal immigrants commit a large number of crimes that require police attention, Koper, Guterbock, Woods, Taylor, and Carter (2013) analyzed how law enforcement in one Virginia county was affected when the police enforced illegal immigration laws. Koper et al. asserted that, although research shows that immigrants do not commit as many crimes as do native-born persons, if the numbers of illegal immigrants increases then there will be, numerically, more crime committed by this population of persons. The researchers found that policy changes implemented by the police led to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants who were charged with misdemeanor crimes. Although increased arrests and deportations might reasonably be expected to result in a decrease in the overall crime rate, Koper et al. (2013) found a reduction only in aggravated assault crimes in the county studied. The researchers speculated that the one county saw a reduced aggravated assault crime rate because the police announced that they were going to enforce arrests of illegal immigrants who committed crimes. The researchers thought that illegal immigrants did not wish to come to the attention of the police and consequently did not report the assault victimization. Concern about crimes committed on or near the U.S. border has also resulted in some studies about the nexus among migration, victimization, and criminal offending. Hickman and Suttorp (2015) analyzed whether undocumented immigrants were more likely to be a recidivist one year after release from jail than nondeportable immigrants. Analyzing a month of data from the Los Angeles County Jail in 2002 , they found that 21% of inmates were foreign born. For those whose immigration status was known, and for which the inmate was not released to another agency, about 60% of the inmates were nondeportable, and 40% were deportable immigrants. One year after release from the county jail, deportable immigrants were no more a threat to public safety than immigrants who were nondeportable (Hickman & Suttorp, 2015). Hickman and Suttorp concluded that the fear that undocumented immigrants are a disproportionate threat to a community’s safety is not empirically supported by analysis of data for the immigrants subjected to criminal justice sanctions at a local jail level. The re-arrest rate for all the immigrants (both deportable and nondeportable) in their study was relatively low (about 38%). In Texas, analysis of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime data show that undocumented immigrants commit less crime than persons born in the United States. According to Nowrasteh (2018), the 2015 Texas criminal conviction rates for native born persons are higher than that of immigrants, whether the immigrants are legally or illegally in the United States native born individuals were convicted of 409,708 crimes, undocumented immigrants were convicted of 15,803 crimes, and legal immigrants were convicted of 17,785 crimes. The rates of criminal convictions were 1,797 per 100,000 native born persons, 899 convictions per 100,000 undocumented immigrants, and about 611 convictions per 100,000 legal immigrants in 2015 . 3 Nowrasteh found that, while undocumented immigrants comprised about 6.4% of the Texas State population, in 2015 , they accounted for 5.9% of all homicide convictions, while native born persons comprised 83% of the state population and were convicted of 90.3% of all homicides. Similarly, lower rates for criminal convictions for sex offenses (69% lower) and thefts (77% lower) were found for undocumented immigrants than for native born individuals. Katz, Fox, and White (2011) analyzed the relationship between immigration status and drug use in Maricopa County, Arizona. In their study, 12% of the recently jailed arrestees were illegal immigrants, 4% were legal immigrants, and the remainder were U.S. citizens. The majority of legal and illegal immigrants were Hispanic males, while U.S. citizens were mainly white (45%) males. Katz et al. also found that the illegal immigrant arrestees in their study were significantly more likely than the other groups of arrestees to be married, employed, and not involved in violence at the time of their arrest they were also unlikely to receive income from illegal activity, and they had fewer prior arrests than the legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. Additionally, there was a significant relationship between immigration status and drug and alcohol use across time (past 3 days, past 30 days, or past year) and across measures (self-report and urinalysis). They specifically found that legal immigrants and U.S. citizens were significantly more likely to “self-report and test positive for marijuana, crack cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, and any illicit drug” than illegal immigrants (Katz et al., 2011, p. 555) illegal immigrants were significantly more likely to test positive for powder cocaine than legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. In addition, U.S. citizens were more likely to report drug use than both legal and illegal immigrants. Thus, despite the conventional wisdom that illegal immigrants are involved with drugs, Katz et al. did not find this to be the case. By distinguishing between legal and illegal immigrants, the researchers were able to dispel some stereotypes about illegal immigrants, but they indicated that more analysis on the context of the arrest and how the police respond to arresting illegal immigrants needed to be done. Because Katz et al. (2011) studied arrestees who were booked into the local county jail who self-reported their immigration status, the findings should not be generalized to all arrestees or to other communities in the United States. Orrick, Compofelice, and Piquero (2016) used propensity score matching to determine if an inmate’s deportable immigration status impacted the offender’s sentence. They analyzed incarceration data from a sample of inmates confined in 2008 . They found that deportable inmates received significantly shorter sentences than inmates in the non-deportable group however, no significant difference occurred if the inmates received life or death sentences. They conclude that their findings “cast some doubts on the minority threat” view that immigrants are a dangerous group (Orrick et al., 2016, p. 36). To further understand if there is a nexus between violent crime and undocumented immigration, Light and Miller (2018) utilized national data sets (Uniform Crime Reporting [UCR], National Crime Victimization Survey [NCVS], migration data bases, census data, and state level data that cover 24 years of crime and victimization data [ 1990 through 2014 ]). They utilized variables derived from competing theories: social disorganization, marginalization, and cultural diffusion (social supports available to undocumented immigrants in neighborhoods that are ethnic enclaves). By analyzing a variety of theoretically derived models, Light & Miller were able to confirm results from prior research that found that immigration and undocumented immigration are negatively associated with increases in violent crime. To the contrary, they found that legal and undocumented immigration “may contribute to lower rates of violent crime” (Light & Miller, 2018, p. 375). Additionally, to address a concern that the lower rates of violent crime might be due to the failure of immigrants to report crime, analysis of data from NCVS was analyzed. They concluded that, whether using UCR or NCVS data, immigration and undocumented immigration are associated with less crime, not just less reporting of crime. In analyzing the types of crimes committed by citizens and noncitizens along the United States and Mexican border, Sibila, Pollock, and Menard (2017) analyzed federal prosecutions in the U.S. District Courts in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. They analyzed federal crimes involving homicide, assault, robbery, marijuana, hard drugs, and weapons between 2007 and 2010 in the USMS Prisoner Tracking System database. The time period selected is important because during the time frame there was a crack-down on Mexican cartel violence in Mexico, and media reports suggested that there was some spillover violence in the United States. Sibila et al. found that regardless of the offense, with the exception of a drug offense, noncitizens were not the strongest predictor of an arrest on the contrary, arrests for homicide, assault, and weapons were statistically associated with being both male and a U.S. citizen. Noncitizen arrests were statistically associated with only one crime, marijuana. Interestingly, federal marijuana arrests were statistically associated with being both female and a noncitizen. They conclude that traditional criminological theories (e.g., social disorganization) do not explain the results rather, immigration revitalization may be supported by their findings, since the majority of arrests are of citizens and the area studied has a large majority of noncitizens (an estimated 4.7 million undocumented immigrants in 2010 ).

Perceptions About Immigrants and Crime

When nations blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, the distinctions between administrative law and criminal law are confounded. These nations may treat immigrants who seek entry or who are to be removed as violent offenders or terrorists. Consequently, the citizens of those nations may also confuse distinctions between crime and the threats to public safety that immigrants may pose.

Public opinion polls indicate that the American public believes that undocumented immigrants should be deported and that the federal government should do something to stop illegal border crossing (Chiricos, Stupi, Stults, & Gertz, 2014). Chiricos et al. assessed whether the perception that immigrants are a threat to the U.S. economy and culture supports social policies to control immigration. They conducted a random telephone survey in 2008 that had more than 1,500 respondents. They found that interviewees who thought that illegal immigrants threatened their cultural and economic security were more likely to favor enhanced border security and internal controls on immigrants. However, when respondents lived in communities with higher numbers of Latino residents, the perceived threats to cultural and economic security were mediated. Desmond and Kubrin (2009) argued that immigrant-concentrated communities, particularly those with high concentrations of Hispanic immigrants, have residents who can refute the idea that immigrants are dangerous as a group, and they asserted that the public needs to be better informed about the relationship between immigration and crime.

Sohoni and Sohoni (2014) analyzed the public discourse on immigration and crime. They found that public consumers of news media linked immigration to crime along three topics of public discourse: public services and resources, government responsibility, and the economy and labor market. The respondents in their study did not complain that immigrants are a criminal class rather, they complained about the impact that immigrants had on the limited, taxpayer-supported resources in a community. The public complained that the government did not do enough to restrict services to immigrants and complained that employers were hiring them for their cheap labor and thereby aiding and abetting illegal immigration. Thus, the researchers found that the general public’s rhetoric against immigrants was not just that immigrants committed crimes, but that their illegal presence in the United States was a crime that needed to be addressed. Confounding the issue of immigration and crime, according to Sohoni and Sohoni (2014), is that the public used the terms Hispanics and illegal immigrants interchangeably and assumed that all Hispanic immigrants had undocumented status.

Wang (2012) considered the perception that undocumented immigrants in the United States pose a criminal threat. She analyzed telephone survey data from four southwestern states (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas) to determine if, in communities with high levels of undocumented Hispanic persons, the Hispanics were viewed as a threat by the majority population. Wang found that respondents who had a distorted view of the relative size of the undocumented immigrant population in their community perceived the undocumented immigrants to be a criminal threat. In finding that the native-born respondents manifested a minority threat perspective, Wang (2012) concluded that the respondents in the southwestern states were worried about two types of threats that were difficult to disentangle: the ethnic threat of Hispanics (native born or immigrants) and the undocumented immigrant threat. These perceived threats can result in proposals to enhance United States–Mexico border security.

Stupi, Chiricos, and Gerz (2016) conducted a national random telephone survey to assess whether U.S. citizens perceived immigrants to be a threat in general, or only if they want to come into the country and illegally cross the border. Stupi et al. found that the perception of the immigration threat differed along adults’ demographic characteristics. Conservative adults were more likely than liberals to perceive undocumented immigrants to be a criminal threat persons with lower incomes and educational attainment levels were more likely to perceive immigrants as a criminal threat than those with higher levels of income or education persons living along the border with Mexico were more likely to perceive a threat from immigrants wanting to come into the United States than those who are already residing in the nation and the perceived imminent threat by undocumented immigrants is the strongest predictor of citizens’ wanting to have strong policy measures to secure the border. It is important not to look at just immigration and crime within the United States but to consider issues regarding the movement of peoples across borders. As Stupi et al.’s (2016) research shows, it is important to distinguish between undocumented immigrants who reside in a nation and policy recommendations based on the desired need of future immigrants.

State policy preferences to proscribe the status of being undocumented have become politicized. Zingher (2014) found, for example, that Republican-controlled state legislatures are significantly more likely to adopt new laws to target undocumented immigrants than Democratic-controlled state legislatures. The ability to pass immigration enforcement laws was also positively associated with Republican-controlled legislatures in states where the Republican Party was very conservative. However, the passage of such bills was unlikely to occur in Republican-controlled legislatures in states that had a large Latino population in the voting electorate the exception to this finding was Arizona.

The Illegality of Being an Undocumented Immigrant

Immigration law violations occur either when a foreign-born person enters the United States legally but overstays his or her visa, or when a foreign-born person enters surreptitiously and without a visa or legal authorization. When undocumented immigrants come to the attention of law enforcement, and if they do not voluntarily agree to deportation, their cases are heard by the U.S. court system, where caseloads in recent years have been huge. According to Metcalf (2011), in 2009 , U.S. trial courts completed over 350,000 illegal alien cases. Many of the litigants were not recent arrivals rather, they had been in the United States for an average of seven years. If the litigant sought asylum, they were most likely to have their petitions denied between 2006 and 2009 , 137,322 asylum applications were granted, while 167,599 were denied (Metcalf, 2011). Of concern to the U.S. courts is the need to ascertain if immigrants are foreign-born persons who are terrorists and entered the United States fraudulently. Metcalf found that between 1993 and 2004 , every one of the 94 foreign-born persons involved in actual attacks on U.S. soil had committed an immigration law violation: 34 made false statements to enter the United States, 18 of the 94 entered on student visas, another four were approved to study in the United States, 17 had improper travel documents, and 13 overstayed their visas.

Immigration courts in the United States are unable to enforce removal decisions the only agency that can arrest, detain, and remove illegal immigrants is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE was formed after passage of the Homeland Security Act in 2003 , to provide enforcement of immigration laws, to investigate illegal trafficking of people and goods, and to prevent terrorism. 4 The United States Supreme Court held, in Nielsen v. Preape (2019), that the government can pick up and hold immigrants without a bond hearing if they are subject to deportation. The Court held that the immigration law’s detention language mandates such detentions by Homeland Security even if the immigrant had otherwise been living in the nation for years. Preape was a permanent resident who was released from criminal custody for two drug crimes seven years prior to his deportation detention he was then denied a bond release hearing. He claimed that he should have only been detained pending deportation immediately upon his release from incarceration, not seven years later, and should be allowed to be released on bond. The Court determined that Homeland Security has broad authority to detain immigrants subject to the 8 U.S.C.§1226 deportations. A release without detention, according to the Court, does not preclude subsequent deportation arrests under the mandatory arrest-detention language of the immigration statute. The Court issued its ruling only on its analysis of the statute and did not analyze any constitutional claims that detainees might otherwise have in regard to their deportation detentions.

Some research has been completed on the rights of immigrants who are to be deported. Guiffré (2017) argued that there should be human rights assurances when immigrants are facing deportation. While immigration courts are determining if an individual is to be removed, the immigrants are in a legal limbo. The “host state” can hold a person while the “receiving state” (the nation to which a deportee is to be sent) determines through diplomatic channels whether the legal transfer back to the receiving state can be accomplished. Of concern is whether the receiving state will provide fair treatment or might torture the deportee. Guiffré contends that diplomatic assurances that the deportee will be safe and treated fairly cannot be adequately monitored and are in essence political statements. She contends that these political assurances confuse immigrants and refugees with terrorists, whom host nations might consider to be foreigners who threaten the host nation’s national security.

The confusion between terrorists and immigrants, as a group, is reinforced when potential deportees are confined pending a removal decision. Medrano (2018) and Cervantes, Menjivar, & Staples (2017) found that while United States immigration law authorizes, even mandates, detention of immigrants, such detentions and holds exacerbate the difficulties experienced by non-dangerous immigrants and their families. United States’ immigration law enables deportation detentions when noncitizens commit a qualifying offense. Such offenses used to be defined as violent felonies, but immigration law changes have broadened qualifying removal offenses to include aggravated felonies, which include misdemeanor offenses with a sentence of more than one year (Medrano). In addition, immigration law allows the detention of persons who seek admission at the border and who are deemed to be inadmissible and subject to administrative deportation processes (Medrano, 2018). These detentions have garnered scrutiny because they treat these immigrants as if they are dangerous such detentions, while not in a prison setting, have the characteristics of penal incarceration, and some centers had been formerly penal institutions (Cervantes et al., 2017 Medrano, 2018). Cervantes et al. (2017) found that female immigrant detainees become docile, experience anxiety, lose contact with family and children, experience violence and maltreatment in the center, and may be sexually assaulted by guards. Medrano (2018) found that while detentions are supposed to be brief, they can be prolonged. According to Medrano (2018, p. 611), “. . . in Colorado, the average is a staggering 1,037 days in Illinois, the average is 1,007 days in Texas, the average is 818 days and in New Jersey, the average is 814 days” of detention for immigrants undergoing removal proceedings.

Other nations are also using administrative proceedings to detain immigrants who are to be deported or denied entry into a country. In the European Union, multiple nations, while attempting to cooperate on responses to security concerns between nations in regard to terrorism, illegal immigration, and cross-border crime, have difficulty resolving legal and administrative concerns pertaining to the Prüm Treaty (Sallavaci, 2018). Different national laws and administrative systems make it difficult for cross-jurisdictional matters to be resolved. Consequently, individual nations fall back on their own individualized laws and administrative processes when handling immigrant detentions and removals. In Russia, for example, deportations seem to follow the United States and United Kingdom’s administrative deportation processes (Kubal, 2017). Kubal (2017) found that Russia is using administrative processes to retroactively apply immigration laws to bar entry to some immigrants and to blur the distinctions between the criminal and civil law. Crocitti and Selmini (2017) found that, as Italian law gave greater weight to administrative decisions by local Mayors, the nation’s “migration patterns and the country’s confused, constantly changing, and fragmented immigration laws relegate many immigrants to conditions of illegality and marginality” (p. 100). Crocitti and Selmini (2017) found that the Mayors’ Administrative Orders in Italy made it difficult for immigrants to find and hold employment and to integrate into Italian society. By criminalizing administrative violations, the immigration systems in various nations undermine the integrity of the criminal law and the criminal justice process. Aliverti (2017), for example, analyzed the purpose of the criminal law and the principle that the law proscribes and punishes wrong doers for minor offenses. Immigration offenses, such as “no documentation” or “possession of a forged document,” punish immigrants for strict liability crimes, which then subject them to enhanced punishments associated with deportation, fines, and detention. Spena (2017) argued that the substantive criminal law does not justify the criminalization of irregular immigration. Irregular immigration is when persons come to another nation’s border and seek entry when legal entrance is closed to them. By analyzing the western traditions of the substantive law and considering if irregular immigration satisfies a mala in se or a mala prohibitum offense, Spena (2017) contended that the criminalization of immigration does not satisfy either type of crime category because it relies upon misleading or unsound principles of law. Nation states should not treat individuals seeking entry as part of a massive group that will threaten a nation cumulatively when actual individual harms are speculative. Spena (2017) concluded that human rights are negatively impacted if immigration is criminalized because it hinders the basic treatment of all persons who seek a better life with dignity.

Crime Victimization and Immigration

Research has shown that immigrants may be less likely to report victimization to the police in the United States for a variety of reasons: language barriers, fear of the police, and fear of deportation (Gutierrez & Kirk, 2017). Gutierrez and Kirk examined whether American communities with large immigrant populations had differences in crime victimization reporting patterns. Using NCVS data, they found that increased foreign-born and noncitizen populations in the cities studied did not impact the reporting of property crime. Interestingly, when foreign-born resident populations were stable, the probability that violent crime would be reported to the police was over 50%. However, if a city experienced rapid growth in the foreign-born population, then the probability of reporting a crime of violence decreased by about 15%. Gutierrez and Kirk posited that the decrease in reporting might have been due to a “lack of services, cultural sensitivity, and overall infrastructure to accommodate the relationships between legal authorities and immigrant groups, . . . which might otherwise promote police notification”. Overall, an increase in immigrant and noncitizen residents in a city was found to be significantly related to a decreased likelihood of reporting violent crime to the police.

Various studies have analyzed immigrants and crime victimization. Using the NCVS’s data between 2008 and 2012 , Xie, Heimer, Lynch, and Planty (2018) found that Latino immigration was a protective factor against violent victimization. They also found support for the view that neighborhoods with a high concentration of Latino immigrant youth experience is negatively associated with violent victimization, even if it is an inner city and disadvantaged neighborhood. Cannon, Fouts, and Stramel (2018) surveyed 52 youth (mostly from Honduras) living in New Orleans who were without their parents. The large majority indicated that they felt safe in New Orleans and did not feel safe in the country of their origin. They experienced less crime and violence in the United States only 27.5% said that they or their household were crime victims in New Orleans, but 86.7% indicated victimization in their country of origin. The youths came to the United States to escape violence and gangs and because they were displaced in nations of origin.

Xie and Baumer (2018) considered whether there is a linear or non-linear relationship between immigration and violent crime victimization. Xie and Baumer (2018) analyzed 2008–2012 NCVS data alongside data on communities that included: neighborhood immigrant concentration individual stratification on the basis of education, employment status, and household income and, county labor market data on urban and rural labor markets to discern competition by jobs among domestic and immigrant residents. Similar to other research, they found a negative relationship between violent crime victimization and immigration across neighborhoods with high immigrant concentrations. They found that neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Latinos had a higher neighborhood protective factor from crime than did white and black neighborhoods. Nonetheless, they also found a non-linear relationship between immigration concentration and victimization. When white and black persons lived in a neighborhood with higher immigrant concentrations, then their risk of violent crime victimization went down. The relationship between immigrant concentrations and violent crime victimization for Hispanics was also negative, but as the immigrant population increased, then the relationship tended to become flat. Xie & Baumer proposed that Hispanic persons tended to live in high immigrant population neighborhoods more than did whites and blacks. When they considered traditional immigrant communities as compared to new immigrant areas and neighborhoods with small immigrant concentrations, Xie and Baumer (2018, p. 323) found that Latinos have a “greater benefit” from immigrant concentration regardless of neighborhood type, but that such a benefit from reduced crime wanes when immigrant concentration is high. In addition, economic stratification did not explain violent crime victimization a person’s education level, income, labor market competition, or employment status did not moderate the relationship between immigration concentration and violent crime victimization.

Immigration, Interpersonal Violence, and Gender Victimization

The gender of the victim needs to be analyzed in regard to immigrants and crime. Xie et al. (2018) found immigration concentrated neighborhoods to be a protective factor against violent crime overall, and they found that the protective factor of immigrant concentration differed among those living in a city and those living in other communities. In their study of the NCVS data, between 2008 and 2012 , Xie et al. found the protective factor against intimate violence was more pronounced in inner city, disadvantaged neighborhoods than for Latinos living in more affluent areas.

While research shows that recent immigrants are less likely to commit crime even in neighborhoods that are considered to be socially disadvantaged, Wright and Benson (2010) wondered whether the immigrant paradox also extended to intimate partner violence. Using 343 neighborhood tract data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago, U.S. Census data, and community surveys, the researchers found that social disorganization theory, by itself, cannot explain intimate partner violence crimes. In communities with high levels of immigrant populations, there were lower levels of intimate partner violence. They found that when families and neighbors do not view family violence as a private matter, then the neighborhoods experience lower rates of intimate partner violence. Wright and Benson (2010) averred that cultural norms about family violence can mitigate against domestic violence. Thus, family violence entails a crime that has individual, cultural, and neighborhood characteristics that should be taken into account. The gender of immigrants may play a factor as to whether victims of crime will report it to the police. Pitts (2014) found that Latina immigrants who experienced interpersonal violence (physical, verbal, and sexual) committed by a partner or intimate were more likely to find help in dealing with the abuse from a community agency, rather than from the police. The most significant situational factors that led women to report victimization to the police included access to transportation and the presence of an eyewitness who saw the abuse. Pitts also found that the most significant demographic characteristics of women who reported abuse to the police were education and age older and more educated women called the police. In addition, whether the woman reported the abuse was not dependent on her ability to speak English or if she was legally married to the offender. Pitts (2014) concluded that the reasons that Latina women do not report a crime of domestic violence to the police are based in both situational and demographic factors that distinguish Latina immigrant victims from other female victims of interpersonal violence.

Reina, Lohman, and Maldonado (2014) also found that Latina victims of domestic violence do not seek help or report their victimization to the police. These researchers found that cultural understandings about domestic violence and feelings of shame were barriers to women seeking assistance the lack of English language proficiency did not prevent women from finding help because materials were available to them in Spanish at advocacy centers. Overall, Reina et al. found that undocumented status was a major factor that affected the victims’ decision to seek help. The researchers found that the women’s abusers intimidate the women by using the threat of deportation as a method of control and power. The Latinas in the study were afraid of leaving their abusers and exhibited other characteristics associated with battered women (shame, guilt, feelings of love for the abuser, fear of further abuse if they attempt to leave). The lack of “culturally competent” services among service providers and within the police meant that undocumented Latina abuse victims did not know or understand how to seek help.

Using a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey of a disproportionately stratified national sample of Latino/Latina adults, Messing, Becerra, Ward-Lasher, and Androff (2015) sought to find out what Latinas thought about the police and if they were afraid of deportation. Messing et al. found that if the fear of deportation increased, then the female respondents were also more likely to be afraid that the police would use excessive force on arrestees. In addition, as fear of deportation among the Latina respondents increased, then the women also said that they would definitely not report crime victimization to the police. Latinas who became U.S. citizens also indicated that they were not very likely to report serious crime victimization to the police. However, Latinas who were older and more educated indicated a willingness to report violent crime victimization. Messing et al. concluded that fear of deportation and concern about unfair treatment by the criminal justice system impede Latinas from reporting violent crime victimization. If women believed that the police would not use excessive force, then their willingness to report violent crime increased. Latinas are concerned with unfair treatment by the criminal justice system because they worry about immigration detention and deportation, unlawful imprisonment of immigrants who have an immigration detainer placed on them, and other concerns for their safety. Such concerns, according to Messing et al. (2015), are expressed not only by undocumented immigrants but also by those who became U.S. citizens. The Latinas with legal status allowing them to be in the United States may be protecting other family members who are undocumented.

Gutierrez and Kirk (2017), using NCVS data between 1974 and 2004 , found that crime reporting is negatively associated with the increasing size of the noncitizen and foreign-born populations within cities. They found that, as the noncitizen population increased 1%, the odds of violent crime reporting decreased about 6%. In addition, as the foreign born population increased, the probability for reporting violent crime decreased about 15%. Gutierrez and Kirk (2017, p. 947) argue that the police need to be aware that immigrant communities may not report crime and that these communities may experience negative consequences from “uncontrolled crime.”

Workplace Victimization

Undocumented immigrants who are working in the United States may experience victimization by employers who exploit them and by street offenders who assume, perhaps correctly, that the immigrant will not report the victimization to the police for fear that he or she will be deported. In the United States, the deportation of illegal immigrants has been increasing since the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRIRA). The IRIRA, together with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), strengthened the ability of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants (Fussell, 2011). Gleeson (2010) reported that for every 19 civilian workers in the United States, one was undocumented, with more than 8 million undocumented immigrants working in particular labor-sector positions, such as construction, food service, and janitorial work. In her study of two cities (Houston, Texas, and San Jose, California), Gleeson found that illegal status intensifies workplace abuses. Gleeson noted that employers may prefer immigrant workers for specific trades if the workers are uneducated, do not have English language skills, and if there is volatility in the economic market. Immigrant workers experienced violations like “paycheck irregularities, wage and hour abuse, and lack of access to safety equipment” (Gleeson, 2010, p. 569). Despite the undocumented immigrants’ knowledge of workplace laws that would protect them, the majority of the respondents Gleeson interviewed did not want to pursue their claims. The respondents wanted to earn money, were afraid of retribution if they spoke out, were afraid of being found out as an undocumented worker, and were afraid of losing their jobs even if they were not undocumented. The workers merely wanted to keep a low profile despite their vulnerability. Undocumented Mexican immigrants ultimately thought about going back to Mexico when they retired they did not focus on what legalization could mean for their employment stability, they only wanted immediate work to support themselves and their family.

Fussell’s (2011) study of undocumented Latino migrant workers found that their situational and demographic characteristics exposed them to crime victimization. Many of the workers in her study were recent migrants to the United States who sought work in seeking to maximize the money that they earned as undocumented laborers and to minimize the amount of money that they spent on living so that they could remit money to their families in Latin and South America, the men worked hard, but their low pay and lack of ties to the community in which they lived set them up for both labor and crime victimization. The victimizations that the undocumented migrants self-reported included wage theft (41%), worksite abuse by employers (22%), robbery (10%), and assault (9%). Fussell found that male day laborers were more likely to experience wage theft and worksite abuse than other Latino workers, and that all groups of Latino migrants were vulnerable to crime victimization, such as robbery and assault.

The history of U.S. border apprehensions

Following President Trump’s nationally televised plea to build a border wall, we look at the modern history of the arrest of migrants attempting to enter the United States without authorization.

President Trump addressed the nation Tuesday night about what he calls, “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border. As the government shutdown persists, here’s what we know about migration into the United States and what’s happening at the U.S.- Mexico border.

Nationwide apprehensions of migrants entering the U.S. illegally

In 1986 , U.S. Border Patrol

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the United States without

2000 set the second-highest record for apprehensions by U.S. border agents at 1.67 million .

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American countries attempting

to enter the United States

In 1986 , U.S. Border Patrol

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the United States without

2000 set the second-highest record

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2000 set the second-highest record

In 1986 , U.S. Border Patrol

people attempting to enter

the United States without

increase in families from

2000 set the second-highest record for apprehensions by

In 1986 , U.S. Border Patrol

people attempting to enter

the United States without

increase in families from

2000 set the second-highest record for apprehensions by U.S. border agents at 1.67 million .

In 1986 , U.S. Border Patrol

detained 1.69 million people

increase in families from

Figures released by the Department of Homeland Security show nationwide apprehensions of migrants entering the country without authorization are at some of their lowest numbers in decades. The U.S. Border Patrol states on its website that these numbers do not include individuals met at ports of entry looking to enter legally, but are determined to be inadmissible, or individuals seeking humanitarian protection under U.S. law.

U.S. Border Patrol took just over 400,000 people illegally entering the United States into custody in 2018, down from the second-high of 1.67 million in 2000.

The Washington Post Fact Checker Salvador Rizzo reported that most of these declines have come, “partly because of technology upgrades tougher penalties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks a decline in migration rates from Mexico and a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol officers.”

What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United States

From the first day of his presidency to his campaign for reelection, Donald Trump has sounded the alarm about crime in the United States. Trump vowed to end “American carnage” in his inaugural address in 2017. This year, he ran for reelection on a platform of “law and order.”

As Trump’s presidency draws to a close, here is a look at what we know – and don’t know – about crime in the U.S., based on a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the federal government and other sources.

Crime is a regular topic of discussion in the United States. We conducted this analysis to learn more about U.S. crime patterns and how those patterns have changed over time.

The analysis relies on statistics published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. FBI statistics were accessed through the Crime Data Explorer. BJS statistics were accessed through the National Crime Victimization Survey data analysis tool. Information about the federal government’s transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System was drawn from the FBI and BJS, as well as from media reports.

To measure public attitudes about crime in the U.S., we relied on survey data from Gallup and Pew Research Center.

How much crime is there in the U.S.?

It’s difficult to say for certain. The two primary sources of government crime statistics – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – both paint an incomplete picture, though efforts at improvement are underway.

The FBI publishes annual data on crimes that have been reported to the police, but not those that haven’t been reported. The FBI also looks mainly at a handful of specific violent and property crimes, but not many other types of crime, such as drug crime. And while the FBI’s data is based on information it receives from thousands of federal, state, county, city and other police departments, not all agencies participate every year. In 2019, the most recent full year available, the FBI received data from around eight-in-ten agencies.

BJS, for its part, tracks crime by fielding a large annual survey of Americans ages 12 and older and asking them whether they were the victim of a crime in the past six months. One advantage of this approach is that it captures both reported and unreported crimes. But the BJS survey has limitations of its own. Like the FBI, it focuses mainly on a handful of violent and property crimes while excluding other kinds of crime. And since the BJS data is based on after-the-fact interviews with victims, it cannot provide information about one especially high-profile type of crime: murder.

All those caveats aside, looking at the FBI and BJS statistics side-by-side does give researchers a good picture of U.S. violent and property crime rates and how they have changed over time.

Which kinds of crime are most and least common?

Property crime in the U.S. is much more common than violent crime. In 2019, the FBI reported a total of 2,109.9 property crimes per 100,000 people, compared with 379.4 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

By far the most common form of property crime in 2019 was larceny/theft, followed by burglary and motor vehicle theft. Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most common offense, followed by robbery, rape, and murder/non-negligent manslaughter.

BJS tracks a slightly different set of offenses from the FBI, but it finds the same overall patterns, with theft the most common form of property crime in 2019 and assault the most common form of violent crime.

How have crime rates in the U.S. changed over time?

Both the FBI and BJS data show dramatic declines in U.S. violent and property crime rates since the early 1990s, when crime spiked across much of the nation.

Using the FBI data, the violent crime rate fell 49% between 1993 and 2019, with large decreases in the rates of robbery (-68%), murder/non-negligent manslaughter (-47%) and aggravated assault (-43%). (It’s not possible to calculate the change in the rape rate during this period because the FBI revised its definition of the offense in 2013.) Meanwhile, the property crime rate fell 55%, with big declines in the rates of burglary (-69%), motor vehicle theft (-64%) and larceny/theft (-49%).

Using the BJS statistics, the declines in the violent and property crime rates are even steeper than those reported by the FBI. Per BJS, the overall violent crime rate fell 74% between 1993 and 2019, while the property crime rate fell 71%.

How do Americans perceive crime in their country?

Americans tend to believe crime is up, even when the data shows it is down.

In 20 of 24 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least 60% of U.S. adults have said there is more crime nationally than there was the year before, despite the generally downward trend in national violent and property crime rates during most of that period.

While perceptions of rising crime at the national level are common, fewer Americans believe crime is up in their own communities. In all 23 Gallup surveys that have included the question since 1993, no more than about half of Americans have said crime is up in their area compared with the year before.

This year, the gap between the share of Americans who say crime is up nationally and the share who say it is up locally (78% vs. 38%) is the widest Gallup has ever recorded.

Public attitudes about crime also differ by Americans’ partisan affiliation, race and ethnicity and other factors. For example, in a summer Pew Research Center survey, 74% of registered voters who support Trump said violent crime was “very important” to their vote in this year’s presidential election, compared with a far smaller share of Joe Biden supporters (46%).

How does crime in the U.S. differ by demographic characteristics?

There are some demographic differences in both victimization and offending rates, according to BJS.

In its 2019 survey of crime victims, BJS found wide differences by age and income when it comes to being the victim of a violent crime. Younger people and those with lower incomes were far more likely to report being victimized than older and higher-income people. For example, the victimization rate among those with annual incomes of less than $25,000 was more than twice the rate among those with incomes of $50,000 or more.

There were no major differences in victimization rates between male and female respondents or between those who identified as White, Black or Hispanic. But the victimization rate among Asian Americans was substantially lower than among other racial and ethnic groups.

When it comes to those who commit crimes, the same BJS survey asks victims about the perceived demographic characteristics of the offenders in the incidents they experienced. In 2019, those who are male, younger people and those who are Black accounted for considerably larger shares of perceived offenders in violent incidents than their respective shares of the U.S. population. As with all surveys, however, there are several potential sources of error, including the possibility that crime victims’ perceptions are incorrect.

How does crime in the U.S. differ geographically?

There are big differences in violent and property crime rates from state to state and city to city.

In 2019, there were more than 800 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska and New Mexico, compared with fewer than 200 per 100,000 people in Maine and New Hampshire, according to the FBI.

Even in similarly sized cities within the same state, crime rates can vary widely. Oakland and Long Beach, California, had comparable populations in 2019 (434,036 vs. 467,974), but Oakland’s violent crime rate was more than double the rate in Long Beach. The FBI notes that various factors might influence an area’s crime rate, including its population density and economic conditions.

What percentage of crimes are reported to police, and what percentage are solved?

Most violent and property crimes in the U.S. are not reported to police, and most of the crimes that are reported are not solved.

In its annual survey, BJS asks crime victims whether they reported their crime to police or not. In 2019, only 40.9% of violent crimes and 32.5% of household property crimes were reported to authorities. BJS notes that there are a variety of reasons why crime might not be reported, including fear of reprisal or “getting the offender in trouble,” a feeling that police “would not or could not do anything to help,” or a belief that the crime is “a personal issue or too trivial to report.”

Most of the crimes that are reported to police, meanwhile, are not solved, at least based on an FBI measure known as the clearance rate. That’s the share of cases each year that are closed, or “cleared,” through the arrest, charging and referral of a suspect for prosecution, or due to “exceptional” circumstances such as the death of a suspect or a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution. In 2019, police nationwide cleared 45.5% of violent crimes that were reported to them and 17.2% of the property crimes that came to their attention.

Both the percentage of crimes that are reported to police and the percentage that are solved have remained relatively stable for decades.

Which crimes are most likely to be reported to police, and which are most likely to be solved?

Around eight-in-ten motor vehicle thefts (79.5%) were reported to police in 2019, making it by far the most commonly reported property crime tracked by BJS. Around half (48.5%) of household burglary and trespassing offenses were reported, as were 30% of personal thefts/larcenies and 26.8% of household thefts.

Among violent crimes, aggravated assault was the most likely to be reported to law enforcement (52.1%). It was followed by robbery (46.6%), simple assault (37.9%) and rape/sexual assault (33.9%).

The list of crimes cleared by police in 2019 looks different from the list of crimes reported. Law enforcement officers were generally much more likely to solve violent crimes than property crimes, according to the FBI.

The most frequently solved violent crime tends to be homicide. Police cleared around six-in-ten murders and non-negligent manslaughters (61.4%) last year. The clearance rate was lower for aggravated assault (52.3%), rape (32.9%) and robbery (30.5%).

When it comes to property crime, law enforcement agencies cleared 18.4% of larcenies/thefts, 14.1% of burglaries and 13.8% of motor vehicle thefts.

Is the government doing anything to improve its crime statistics?

Yes. The FBI has long recognized the limitations of its current data collection system and is planning to fully transition to a more comprehensive system beginning in 2021.

The new system, known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), will provide information on a much larger number of crimes, as well as details such as the time of day, location and types of weapons involved, if applicable. It will also provide demographic data, such as the age, sex, race and ethnicity of victims, known offenders and arrestees.

A Reflection on the History of Sexual Assault Laws in the United States

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.

April has been designated “Sexual Assault Awareness Month” in the United States since 2001. Sexual assault and harassment have consistently made the headlines in recent months, from President Trump’s “grab them by the pu**y” comment to the avalanche of assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein. At the forefront has been the #MeToo movement, with woman after woman, including famous and respected actresses, sharing their stories of sexual assault. What was once swept under the rug is now the hammer being used to shatter the stigma of sexual assault.

Crumbling too is the sense of security once felt by sexual predators. As the #MeToo movement has gained popularity, companies and employers have rushed to disassociate themselves with men accused of sexual misconduct. In November 2017, NBC fired its “crown jewel” Matt Lauer after a two-month investigation into several claims of sexual harassment by female staffers. So too was Kevin Spacey fired from Netflix’s hit original series “House of Cards” after actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Spacey made unwanted sexual advances towards him when he was only 14. Companies and employers taking the moral high ground has been a beacon of hope for many, but this was not always the case. Even our laws, which regard rape as a one of the most violent crimes a person can commit, did not always punish the perpetrators accordingly.

The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest sets of written laws, considered the rape of a virgin as property damage against her father. For a long time, the rape of a woman was considered a property crime against the victim’s husband or father. The word itself derives from the Latin word rapere, or “seize”. It wasn’t until the 11th and 12th centuries that rape began to be considered more as a violent, sexual crime against the victim. At the end of the 13th century, the Statutes of Westminster allowed the crown to prosecute rapists should the victim’s family choose not to do so, signifying a fundamental change in rape being viewed as a crime against the State.

Early American colonies defined rape at the common-law as “carnal knowledge of a woman 10 year or older, forcibly and against her will.” In the late 1800s, temperance and suffrage activists successfully advocated to raise the legal age of consent from 10 to between 14 and 18, depending on the state. Not everyone, however, was excited about this progress. In 1895, one Kentucky legislator wrote, “I regard the twelve-year-old girl as being capable of resisting the wiles of the seducer as any older woman.”

Women of color endured even more dire conditions. During the 1800s, most states excluded black women, both free and enslaved, from rape laws. Slave women frequently endured violent sexual abuse which often resulted in pregnancy. If a slave woman attempted to defend herself against such abuse, she would be beaten severely. It was not until 1861 that a black woman could even file rape charges against a white man.

Nearly 100 years later, the Anti-Rape movement emerged as violence against women became a central point in the second-wave feminist movement. The 1960s onward ushered in significant progress in American rape law. It was during this time that rape began to be viewed as a weapon, driven by the desire to exert control over women. Prior to the 1970s, marital rape, or the raping of one spouse by the other, was exempt from many rape laws. In 1976, however, Nebraska became the first state to make marital rape a crime. By 1993, marital rape was a crime in all 50 states.

Perhaps the most significant change came in 1975 when Congress adopted rules 412, 413, 414, and 415 into the Federal Rules of Evidence. These rules, more commonly known as “rape shield” laws, limit the Defendant’s ability to probe into the sexual behavior, history, or reputation of the alleged victim. Prior to 1975, Defendants could attack an alleged victim’s credibility by presenting evidence of the victim’s sexual activity. The public humiliation and embarrassment of having their sexual history dragged out in court became a strong incentive for victims not to report sex crimes. Subject to limited and strict exceptions, rules 412-415 of the Federal Rules of Evidence prevents evidence of a victim’s sexual history from being used to discredit him or her.

Laws treating sexual assault, harassment, and abuse continue to progress. Thirty-eight states, including Arkansas, have enacted revenge porn laws, criminalizing the distribution of sexually explicit images or videos without the individual’s consent. What is clear is that continued progress can only be achieved by keeping sexual assault and harassment relevant in the national dialogue. As stories continue to emerge, and as more and more men join this dialogue, lawmakers may enact legislation addressing these problems head-on.

Federal and state police forces were born in the early 1900s.

During Prohibition, cops were tasked with stopping the sale and distribution of alcohol. At times, the police would confiscate the illegal substance and dump it into sewage drains.

At the same time, organized crime began to take shape, and protests, riots, and petty crimes were also on the rise. The local police forces could not keep up.

In response, the Department of Treasury created "T-Men," a group of 4,000 men who were charged with enforcing the laws of Prohibition. State governments also started creating their own police forces in the early 1900s to stop the spread of crime in cities.

Illegal Immigration Statistics

With the controversy over family separations, much of the political rhetoric in recent weeks has focused on illegal immigration. We thought it would be helpful to take a step back and look at some measures of illegal immigration in a larger context.

For example, how many immigrants live in the U.S. illegally, and how many are caught each year trying to cross the Southwest border? How many of them are families or unaccompanied children? And how have these statistics changed over time? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

How many immigrants are living in the U.S. illegally?
There were 12 million immigrants living in the country illegally as of January 2015, according to the most recent estimate from the Department of Homeland Security. The estimates from two independent groups are similar: The Pew Research Center estimates the number at 10.7 million in 2016, and the Center for Migration Studies says there were 10.8 million people in 2016 living in the U.S. illegally.

That would be about 3.3 percent to 3.7 percent of the total U.S. population in 2016 or 2015.

All three groups use Census Bureau data on the foreign-born or noncitizens and adjust to subtract the legal immigrant population.

DHS estimated that the growth of the illegal immigrant population had slowed considerably, saying the population increased by 470,000 per year from 2000 to 2007, but only by 70,000 per year from 2010 to 2015.

CMS found a decline in the undocumented population, and specifically those from Mexico, of about 1 million since 2010. And the Pew Research Center found a peak of 12.2 million in the population in 2007, and a decline since.

All three groups find Mexicans make up the majority of the undocumented population — 55 percent in 2015, according to DHS — but the number and share of Mexicans among this population has been declining in recent years.

Those living in the country illegally also have increasingly been here for 10 years or more. DHS says nearly 80 percent in 2015 have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, and only 6 percent came to the country over the previous five years.

Update, June 7, 2019: After this story was originally published in June 2018, a study by researchers at Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that the illegal immigration population was much higher: an average 22.1 million for 2016. The researchers used a mathematical model with assumptions on immigration inflows and outflows to estimate the growth in the illegal immigration population from 1990 to 2016. Immigration experts, including those with the Migration Policy Institute, the Center for Migration Studies, the Center for Immigration Studies (a self-described “low-immigration, pro-immigrant” group) and the libertarian Cato Institute, have criticized the Yale study.

MPI said it was “based on seriously flawed assumptions,” and CIS said, “The findings are unsupportable.” One of the main criticisms is that the study didn’t adequately account for circular migration in the 1990s (people coming and going multiple times) and overestimated the number who remained in the U.S. The Center for Migration Studies’ Robert Warren, who was the director of the statistics division of Immigration and Naturalization Services from 1986 to 1995, wrote in his criticism that the apprehension rates the Yale researchers used for the 1990s were “purely speculative.” The estimates for inflows are “far too high” and for outflows “far too low,” he said. The Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh said the media and researchers “should not support” the study’s findings “based on the quality of the criticisms.” When the Department of Homeland Security published its own most recent estimate on the illegal immigration population in December, it mentioned the Pew Research Center and Center for Migration Studies estimates, but it didn’t cite the Yale study.

How many people are crossing the border illegally?
There’s no official measure of how many people succeed in illegally crossing the border, but authorities use the number of apprehensions to gauge changes in illegal immigration. Apprehensions on the Southwest border peaked in 2000 at 1.64 million and have generally declined since, totaling 396,579 in 2018.

Those numbers, which come from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, are for fiscal years and date back to 1960.

That’s a 76 percent decline in the number of apprehensions between the peak in 2000 and 2018.

We can also look at how the figures have changed over the past several years.

Under the Obama administration, the yearly apprehensions on the Southwest border declined by 35 percent from calendar year 2008, the year before President Obama took office, through the end of 2016. In President Donald Trump’s first full year in office, the apprehensions declined by 43 percent, from calendar year 2016 to 2017.

On a monthly basis, the apprehensions decreased significantly during the first six months of Trump’s tenure and then began to rise. The number was actually higher in November (the most recent month for which the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has published figures) than it was when Trump was sworn in.

What about people overstaying their visas?
As border apprehensions have declined, estimates show a growing proportion of the undocumented population legally entered the country on visas but overstayed the time limits on those visas. A Center for Migration Studies report estimates that 44 percent of those in living in the U.S. illegally in 2015 were visa overstays. That’s up from an estimated 41 percent in 2008.

The CMS report, written by Robert Warren , a former director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s statistics division, says 65 percent of net arrivals — those joining the undocumented population — from 2008 to 2015 were visa overstays.

There are no solid, long-term estimates of the visa overstay problem. When we wrote about this issue in August 2015, DHS told us it didn’t have statistics on visa overstays. But DHS has since issued some estimates. It said that about 629,000 people on visas who were expected to leave in fiscal year 2016 hadn’t done so by the end of that fiscal year (that’s out of 50.4 million arrivals).

That number, however, had declined to about 545,000 by January 2017, DHS said, noting that it expected the estimate to “ shift over time as additional information is reported .” CMS disputed the DHS estimate, finding that the number was too high.

For fiscal year 2017, DHS estimated in a report released in August that there were 606,926 suspected in-country overstays, a rate of 1.15 percent of expected departures.

What about families trying to cross the border illegally?
The number of family units apprehended has increased since fiscal year 2013, the first year for which we have such data. While 3.6 percent of those apprehended in 2013 were in a family unit, the proportion was 27 percent in 2018.

In fiscal year 2013, according to Customs and Border Protection data, there were 14,855 people apprehended on the Southwest border who were part of a “family unit” — those are individuals, including children under 18, parents or legal guardians, apprehended with a family member.

The number increased significantly in fiscal year 2014 to 68,445. Then, it dropped the following year to 39,838, before increasing again in fiscal year 2016 to 77,674. The figure was similar in 2017, and it went up in 2018, to 107,212.

We asked Customs and Border Protection if it could provide family unit figures for years prior to 2013. We have not received a response.

How many unaccompanied children are caught trying to cross the border?
Using the same time period that we have for family units, the number of children under age 18 apprehended crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian was about the same in fiscal year 2013 as it was in 2017 — around 40,000. But it fluctuated in the years in between. In fiscal 2018, the number was 50,036.

In 2014, the Obama administration dealt with a surge of unaccompanied minors on the Southwest border, largely due to those fleeing violence and poverty in the “northern triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and false rumors about “permits” being issued, as we explained at the time. The number of apprehended unaccompanied children rose from 38,759 in fiscal year 2013 to 68,541 in fiscal year 2014. It went back down to just under 40,000 the following year.

CBP data for unaccompanied children go back further than the available statistics on family units. In fiscal year 2010, the number of unaccompanied children apprehended was 18,411.

How many unaccompanied children, including children separated from their parents, are being held in shelters in the U.S.?
Unaccompanied children are referred to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. HHS said during a conference call on June 26 that there were 11,800 children in ORR shelters, with 2,047 of those being children who had been separated from their parents. The rest — about 83 percent — had crossed the border without a parent or legal guardian.

By early July, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said his agency would reunite nearly 3,000 children who had been separated from their parents.

According to a Dec. 12 court filing in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 131 children still in custody separated from their parents however, in more than 90 percent of those cases either the parents have indicated they won’t reunify with their children or officials have found the parents are unfit.

DHS and HHS have not provided any figures on how many children were separated from their parents in prior years.

The ORR program houses the children in about 100 shelters in 14 states. In May, an HHS official told Congress that children had spent an average of 57 days in such shelters in fiscal 2018 before being placed with a sponsor, who could be a parent, another relative or a non-family member.

About 80 percent or more of the unaccompanied children referred to HHS over the last several years have been age 13 and older, according to HHS statistics, and about 90 percent or more have been from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Is there recidivism?
Yes. Customs and Border Patrol says 10 percent of those apprehended in fiscal year 2017 were caught more than once that year. In 2016, the figure was 12 percent.

How many border patrol agents are there?
In fiscal year 2017, there were 19,437 border patrol agents. The number peaked in fiscal year 2011 at 21,444, so it has declined a bit since then. But the number of agents is still much larger than it was about two decades ago.

The vast majority of agents are assigned to the Southwest border. Back in fiscal year 2000, when apprehensions peaked at 1.64 million, there were 8,580 agents assigned to the border with Mexico. In 2017, when apprehensions were 303,916, there were 16,605 Southwest border agents.

How many people are deported each year?
The Department of Homeland Security says 340,056 people were removed from the U.S. in fiscal 2016. A “removal” is “ the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” (See Table 39 of the 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.)

There are also “returns,” which are “inadmissible or deportable” immigrants who leave voluntarily before a formal removal order is issued. Returns totaled 106,167 that year.

The peak for combined removals and returns was 1.86 million in fiscal 2000 — the same year that apprehensions on the Southwest border also peaked. In fact, the bar graph of these statistics mirrors the graph on apprehensions (see above) — generally, when apprehensions were higher, so, too, were removals and returns.

Since fiscal 2011, removals have been higher each year than returns. Before that, the reverse was true.

Q: Can employers, colleges and universities require COVID-19 vaccinations?

A brief history of election “rigging” in the United States

Allegations that the American electoral system is rigged were a staple of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Now the president appears to be stoking fears of what he describes as a "rigged election" in November 2020, with his claims that postal ballots – known as "mail-in" ballots in the US – would lead to "the most corrupt election" in US history. Here, Professor Adam IP Smith from the University of Oxford investigates America's history of election 'rigging'.

This competition is now closed

Published: August 17, 2020 at 12:45 pm

Note: This article was originally written in the autumn of 2016

Donald J Trump was an unconventional presidential candidate in almost every sense imaginable, not least in his willingness to defy taboos. Of all the presumed norms he ignored, possibly the one that created most consternation was his repeated claim that the election is “rigged” against him and his refusal, in the third presidential debate in 2016, to say whether he would accept the result: “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he promised.

Allegations that the system is rigged were a staple of Trump’s 2016 campaign he began complaining of a rigged process during the primaries early in the spring. When Trump talked about the election being rigged he seemed to mean it on two levels: he alleged that the media is biased against him and therefore that voters’ minds have been poisoned against him. But he also suggested that there would be widespread voter fraud, that the election might be “stolen” from him, and he warned his supporters to “watch your polling booths”. One man at a Trump rally was quoted by the Boston Globe saying he was going to take his candidate’s advice and go to the polls, look for people who “don’t speak American” and “make them a little bit nervous”.

Trump was the first presidential nominee of a major party to make allegations of systemic fraud central to his campaign, but his line tapped into a deep tradition in American politics. Trump’s attacks on the electoral system may well have intensified the alienation felt by many Americans from their political institutions, but surveys showed that he was tapping into that feeling, not creating it. Most commentators were outraged by Trump’s willful attacks on the electoral process. In this narrative, the Republican candidate was jeopardizing the essence of the American tradition: the “peaceful transfer of power” that goes back to the nation’s founding.

There was a rosy quality to this narrative. It imagined an American past in which voters went to the polls to peacefully cast their votes, gamely accepting the result even if it went against them. It was a narrative based on truth, but it was not the whole truth. The reality is that Trump’s conspiratorial way of thinking – his refusal to accept that the electoral system works in the way it claims to – is just as old as the alternative, rosy picture. The United States, by most measures, is the oldest mass democracy in the world – white men could vote almost without any property restrictions in most states as early as the 1810s, fully a century before the same was true in the UK (with the Representation of the People Act 1918). But its politics have always been rude and rumbustious – and, on occasion, rigged…

Violent coercion and drunken voting

Until the introduction of what was known as the “Australian ballot” in the 1880s, when you voted you made your choice public. The “Australian” system, named after the practice of secrecy in elections adopted in the British colony of Victoria in 1856, meant a generic ballot paper produced by neutral election authorities. That replaced a chaotic electoral world in which the campaigns themselves produced their own ballots on coloured paper, which voters then deposited in round glass ballot boxes. Voters lined up to cast their ballot with party operatives pressing, persuading or bribing them. Voting against the prevailing mood in one’s own precinct took courage, often physical courage. Violence was common, and, up to a point, an accepted part of the process. If a voter was not “manly” enough to stand up for his chosen candidate against a little bit of rowdiness from the other side, then was he really a fit republican citizen?

Election results in the 19th century were frequently contested, sometimes in the courts, but more often by appeals to the relevant legislature (at the state or federal level) who set up committees to investigate disputes among rival candidates. The hearings those committees held revealed amazing stories of the lengths that campaigns would go. For example, the practice of “cooping”, notoriously adopted by the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City, meant luring willing or unwilling men into a basement a day or two before the election, plying them with alcohol and food and then dragging them semi-conscious to the polling place on election morning.

Slightly more subtly, party workers would set up shop with a barrel of whiskey right next to the polling place, a practice so commonplace that it is depicted benignly in a famous series of paintings of a Missouri election in the 1850s by George Caleb Bingham.

In Adams County, Ohio, in 1910, a judge brought to trial and convicted 1,690 voters – 26 percent of the whole electorate – for selling their votes. Especially in urban areas, political gangs openly used violence to carry elections. Isaiah Rynders was a notorious political boss and leader of the Empire Club in New York in the 1840s and 50s who led a heavily armed team of bruisers, smashing up opposition political meetings and patrolling the polling places to deter anyone who did not support their candidates. But he was far from alone. Also in New York, in 1853, a Democratic candidate for Congress, “Honest John” Kelly (the nickname was ironic), took an army of dock workers and volunteer firemen into a polling station on election day, smashed up the tables and tore up opposition ballots.

Immigration and fears of the “alien” masses

Kelly was Irish. And much of the history of election fraud – or alleged election fraud – in American history has been prompted by the fear that “alien” masses would steal an election. Just as Trump in 2o16 voiced an accusation widespread on the right-wing internet that undocumented migrants were being allowed to vote, and darkly warned his supporters about upcoming fraud in inner-city Philadelphia (an area with a heavily African-American population), 19th and early 20th-century Americans experienced waves of panic about the abuse of the electoral process by outsiders.

This is why the most acute periods of concern about electoral fraud have coincided either with a big influx of immigrants or with an extension of voting rights to African-Americans, or both. The 1850s was a decade of high levels of immigration, and the Democrats quite deliberately targeted immigrants fresh off the boat, entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement in which the “machine” would provide them with jobs in return for political support, but it triggered huge anger about “stolen” elections among the native-born majority.

In the late 1860s and 70s, after emancipation and after the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution had tried to guarantee suffrage for black people, there was a fresh wave of anxiety about the “debasement” of the electoral process. Black men, it was alleged, were incapable of exercising the judgment required to vote in a republic. Their presence at the ballot box was seen by the white majority in the Southern states as de facto evidence that the election was being rigged by Northern Yankee carpetbaggers, who were cynically manipulating African-Americans to win elections illegitimately.

On this podcast, Sarah Churchwell and Adam IP Smith explore the origins of America First and the American Dream:

An undertow of fear

There has never been a time when Americans have been comfortable with their electoral system. Mass politics has come with an undertow of fear. At the heart of this fear is the creeping sense that the system’s transparency is a sham and that someone somewhere is manipulating the system to cheat the “real” people of their rightful rule. Almost always such charges are linked to the idea that there is a group of voters who are so weak or supine that they will allow themselves to be the pawns of some behind-the-scenes power broker.

A cartoon entitled “Soliciting a Vote” from the 1852 election expresses this anxiety very well. It shows a hapless, down-at-heel voter being manhandled by four candidates for the presidency. There is here no corruption in the direct sense – no money is apparently changing hands – but a general anxiety that the election will be determined not by the “issues” or rational-critical interchange but by a combination of intimidation and bribery.

The word “rigged” to describe an election, however, is of fairly recent usage. So far as I have been able to discover it was not used in the 19th century. Newspaper writers did describe corrupt schemes having been “rigged up” to sway an election, but did not use the word in quite the sense that it is used today. It was once again a battle over who was entitled to vote that propelled “rigged” into the electoral lexicon.

African-Americans protested in the 1950s and 1960s about elections – and the system – being rigged against them. The pro-segregationist George Wallace, whose 1968 third party run for the presidency was often cited as a precedent for Trump’s politics, counter-charged that the 1965 Voting Rights Act (which secured black voting) was “rigging” the process against white people. Bernie Sanders, who ran a populist campaign against the “establishment” figure of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in 2016, also charged that the system was “rigged”, though he was more likely to use the term to refer to the entire economic system than the electoral process specifically. Rigging is a seductively easy charge to make because it is almost always used in the passive voice. Exactly who is doing the rigging is usually unspecified – the listeners can fill in the blank themselves.

The vulnerability of electoral systems has always been the prospect that the losing side will not accept the outcome. George Washington fretted that the early republic would not survive its factious politics could the fledgling republic hold together its disparate interests without the binding power of a permanent monarchical head of state? In 1860, the losing side was so unprepared to accept the outcome of a presidential election that they seceded and formed a separate Confederacy (though it should be noted that in that case, even Southerners did not dispute that the winner – Abraham Lincoln – had been duly elected they just really didn’t like the result).

Elections have frequently been contested. There has never been a golden age when the losers gave in gracefully every time (though many have done so, notably the last two losing Republican presidential candidates). Little wonder, then, that Trump’s claims chime with the public. In his warnings of conspiracy they hear, unknowingly perhaps, the echo of the darker, grumpier, side to the American democratic experiment.

Adam IP Smith is the Edward Orsborn Professor of US politics & political history at the University of Oxford and the director of the Rothermere American Institute. He specialises in the history of the United States in the 19th century and he is the author of The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

This article was originally published in the autumn of 2016


Crank, John and Robert Langworthy, "An Institutional Perspective of Policing," The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 83, no.2 (1992).

Harring, Sidney, "The Taylorization of Police Work: Policing in the 1980s," The Insurgent Sociologist 10, no. 4, (1981).

Uchida, Craig, "The Development of American Police: An Historical Overview," In Critical Issues in Policing: Contemporary Readings, edited by Robert Dunham and Geoff Alpert, Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1993.

Walker, Samuel, The Police in America: An Introduction, New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.


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