How Immigrants Reduce Crime

Exploring the vicious cycle of high homicide rates and declining populations that has afflicted American “murder capitals” like Detroit and New Orleans, Kriston Capps uncovers how other cities have managed to escape that cycle:

Nationwide, violent crime has dropped in two waves. Violence fell just about everywhere in the 1990s, with rates leveling off in the 2000s. Then, around 2007, violent crime dropped again—hugely—in several cities, among them D.C., New York, Dallas, and San Diego. What’s working for these cities?


“It’s immigration, desegregation, and gentrification,” [senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center John] Roman says. “They all sort of work together [to reduce crime].”

He cites D.C. as a textbook example. In the 1990s, the city enjoyed a big immigration boom, mostly from Central America. The District was unprepared for it: Police hassled immigrants for things like drinking beer on front stoops, which is a fine pastime in El Salvador but was not okay in Adams Morgan. Hassling could turn into suppression, and sometimes riots ensued. But that was then. Nowadays, “you can transact any business you want to with the government of D.C. in Spanish,” Roman notes.

“If you look at the economic status of immigrant communities, and this is true almost everywhere, the amount of violence is far lower than you would expect given the poverty there,” he says. “Immigration and desegregation make poor places less violent. All of a sudden, they look really attractive to gentrifiers.”