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Want To Reduce Crime In New England? Add More Immigrants

A young refugee boy sits on his family’s baggage in the Manchester–Boston Regional Airport shortly after arriving with his mom and his sister. His mother fled Bhutan as a refugee in the early ’90s, and lived in a refugee camp in Nepal until recently resettling in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photo by Ryan Caron King / NENC

OPINION

In 2012, Massachusetts state officials refused to participate in a controversial federal program called Secure Communities, which created a partnership between the federal government and state and local jails. Part of the program — known as SCOMM in the vernacular — involved local officials sending the fingerprints of people who were arrested to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency charged with deportation duties.

Since news recently surfaced of family separations and toddlers held in cages, ICE has come under fire from some political leaders – including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – who want to abolish it.

As for other New England states, Connecticut limited its involvement in Secure Communities, which by the time it was suspended in 2014 was responsible for  375,000 deportations.

Part of the reasoning behind the program was, ostensibly, to reduce crime in America’s cities. In fact, multiple studies showed that the Secure Communities program had little to no effect in reducing crime.

Yet Pres. Donald J. Trump reinstated it with an executive order last year. The program remains controversial.

Ironically, there’s one fool-proof way to help make communities more secure.

Add immigrants.

Yes. Immigrants.

Numerous studies – from entities as disparate as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, and Migration Letters, an international peer-reviewed journal – show that neighborhoods with more immigrants have lower rates of violent crime. The effect is even greater when a neighborhood is ethnically diverse, according to a 2017 study.

The preponderance of evidence flies in the face of the Trump administration’s push to decrease (or eliminate) undocumented immigrants. This is key all around the country, including here in New England with a growing immigrant population, according to the American Immigration Council, a D.C.-based advocacy organization. New England states have the following percentage of foreign-born residents:

  • Connecticut – 15 percent
  • Maine – 3 percent
  • Massachusetts – 16 percent
  • New Hampshire – 6 percent
  • Rhode Island – 12 percent
  • Vermont – 5 percent

But then, this administration frequently flies in the face of facts and actual data – and so too did the Supreme Court, with its decision last month to uphold Trump’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Last September, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration even rejected an internal study by their own Department of Health and Human Services that showed refugees bring in more government revenue than they cost – to the tune of $63 billion over the course of a decade.

There is evidence, as well, that the Secure Communities program has had a disquieting effect on participation in social service programs such as SNAP (the food stamp program) and Obamacare. Fear of exposing undocumented family members to the awesome power of the state may be keeping some eligible people from participating. Researchers have shown a decline in participation among Hispanic citizens, in particular. (In sanctuary cities, there has been no such drop in participation among Hispanic residents.)

The positive effect on neighborhoods by immigrants holds true for people who come into the country illegally, as well, according to a 2018 Wisconsin study. Published in the journal Criminology, the study drew a correlation between the undocumented immigrant population, which tripled between 1990 and 2014, and the violent crime rate, which halved during that same time. A 2017 study from the same authors said the presence of undocumented immigrants also doesn’t increase drug and alcohol crimes and deaths.

A 2012 study explored the “remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course” among foreign-born residents in the U.S.

Enough evidence for you?

The positive effect of immigrants goes beyond reducing crime. In fact, Robert J. Sampson, Harvard University social sciences professor, credits the influx of immigrants for reviving cities whose fortunes were waning in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In a 2015 article for “American Prospect,” Sampson wrote, that “Immigrants have gravitated to many of the urban areas that were most distressed 40 years ago and have contributed to their economic revival.”

In fact, in 2015 the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said that people who immigrated to the U.S. since 2010 are more likely to be highly educated, particularly in Massachusetts and Connecticut, home to 87 percent of the region’s newest immigrants.

So the overwhelming evidence is that immigrants contribute to a marked reduction in crime, and their presence aided immeasurably in the revitalization of our cities. Do we really want to close the window on that?