Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Evidence suggests that amnesty for undocumented immigrants in 1986 significantly reduced crime in the US

Scott Baker, London School of Economics Blog
August 27, 2015

In 2015, the role of undocumented immigrants in US society has become much more prominent, with many arguing for a full amnesty for the 11 million currently in the country. In new research, Scott R. Baker finds that a 1986 amnesty for nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants led to a 3-5 percent persistent fall in crime. He writes that this fall in crime is linked to the much improved labor market prospects of previously undocumented immigrants, which led to a decreased motivation to commit crimes for economic gain.

Beginning in the late 1970’s, rates of undocumented immigration into the United States began to increase dramatically. Fearing negative labor market and social effects, Congress passed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The primary purpose of the bill was to enhance controls on the hiring and recruiting of undocumented immigrants. However, the legislation also represented a near-universal legalization of undocumented immigrants in the United States, a group comprising almost 3 million people, about 1 percent of the nation’s population.

This widespread legalization drove a persistent decline in crime of approximately 3-5 percent, equivalent to 120,000-180,000 fewer crimes committed each year across the nation, primary due to a large fall in property crimes. This decline cannot be explained by pre-existing trends, economic conditions, declines in drug crimes, changes to police forces and prison populations, or other common explanations of changes in crime rates during this period.[...]

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