Representational image. Kat Wilcox/Pexels

NEW YORK CITY - When there's a wave of immigration, discourse around crimes and safety tends to increase. Some stereotypes dictate that immigrants contribute to increasing crime rates. But is their presence in the country actually bringing danger? A new report argues that the answer is heavily nuanced.

Federal immigration enforcement has expanded significantly over the past three decades. While many policy changes focus on strengthening border security, another set of policies has taken steps to enforce immigration laws within the country.

The Secure Communities program, for instance, was an information-sharing initiative that expanded the ability to identify and detain individuals in violation of immigration law who had been arrested for a criminal offense.

A report published this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at national data from this program, analyzing the behavior of immigrants and other citizens in relation to this initiative.

They argued that while heightened immigration enforcement has the potential to reduce crime through the deportation and deterrence of immigrant offenders, public safety could suffer if heightened enforcement degrades trust in law enforcement.

In other words, because police rely on victims and witnesses for detecting, apprehending and convicting offenders, harsh immigration and public safety enforcement could be detrimental to the trust with citizens.

For instance, in 2012, 44% of Latinos reported that they were less likely to contact police if they were a victim of a crime because they feared police would inquire about their immigration status or that of the people they know.

Similarly, Hispanic individuals have higher victimization rates than non-Hispanic individuals, mainly due to a higher likelihood of experiencing property crimes. Actually, across crime incidents, Hispanic victims under-report incidents, with only 34% of crime incidents being reported to the police at the time of the study.

In fact, "even when local police have attempted to guarantee protection for immigrants who cooperate with criminal investigations, local authorities have often been limited in their ability to secure this protection given the competing jurisdictional authority of federal immigration agents," the study reports.

Without a victim report, it is unlikely that the police will be able to identify and apprehend an offender, the report argues.

This report comes during an election year in which immigration, as well as crime being caused by immigration, is a top issue among the electorate and politicians alike.

Earlier this year, when a Venezuelan immigrant who crossed the southern border allegedly murdered a Georgia nursing student, Republican lawmakers pushed for harsher immigration bills. This trend has continued as the election approaches.

Similarly, former President Donald Trump has continuously spoken about his perceived dangers that immigrants bring into the U.S.

"You know, in New York, what's happening with crime is it's through the roof, and it's called 'migrant,'" the former president and presumed GOP nominee said at a rally in Michigan in February. "They beat up police officers. You've seen that they go in, they stab people, hurt people, shoot people. It's a whole new form, and they have gangs now that are making our gangs look like small potatoes."

But despite these allegations, studies across the board show that this is not the case.

In December 2020, researchers studying Texas crime statistics found that "contrary to perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born U.S. citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years."

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