Is Immigration Responsible for the Crime Drop? An Assessment of the Influence of Immigration on Changes in Violent Crime Between 1990 and 2000


  • *Direct correspondence to Tim Wadsworth, Department of Sociology, UCB 327, Boulder, CO 80309 〈〉. I will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2007 American Criminological Society Annual Meeting. I thank Robert Brame, Richard Rogers, and Jerald R. Herting, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for comments on earlier drafts of the article.


Objectives. The idea that immigration increases crime rates has historically occupied an important role in criminological theory and has been central to the public and political discourses and debates on immigration policy. In contrast to the common sentiment, some scholars have recently questioned whether the increase in immigration between 1990 and 2000 may have actually been responsible for part of the national decrease in crime during the 1990s. The current work evaluates the influence of immigration on crime in urban areas across the United States between 1990 and 2000.

Methods. Drawing on U.S. Census and Uniform Crime Report data, I first use ordinary least squares regression models to assess the cross-sectional relationship between immigration patterns and rates of homicide and robbery among U.S. cities with populations of at least 50,000. Second, I employ pooled cross-sectional time-series models to determine how changes in immigration influenced changes in homicide and robbery rates between 1990 and 2000.

Results. In the ordinary least squares models, immigration is associated with higher levels of homicide and robbery. However, the pooled cross-sectional time-series models suggest that cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery during the same time period.

Conclusion. The findings offer insights into the complex relationship between immigration and crime and suggest that growth in immigration may have been responsible for part of the precipitous crime drop of the 1990s.