Christopher Salas-Wright, University of Texas at Austin – Immigrant Mischaraterization
02/20/2017 | 12:01 1 Posted in Criminal Justice, Sociology
Are immigrants wrongly portrayed as being criminals in the public sphere?
Christopher Salas-Wright, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin at time of airing and now faculty at Boston University, explains his research into this newsworthy topic.
2016-present Assistant Professor School of Social Work, Boston University 2013-2016 Assistant Professor School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin 2015-2016 Faculty Research Associate Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin 2013-2016 Faculty Affiliate Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), The University of Texas at Austin 2012-2013 Instructor Boston College, Graduate School of Social Work.
Over the last few months, we have often seen the portrayal of immigrants as criminals prone to drug use, violence, and other problem behaviors. And yet, our research—and that of scholars across the United States—suggests that these depictions have little basis in reality. Indeed, a large and growing body of evidence suggests that, despite experiencing adversity on multiple fronts, immigrants are substantially less likely than those born in the US to be involved in an array of criminal and antisocial behaviors.
During the past few years, we have used data from multiple nationally representative surveys to systematically examine the behavior of immigrants and non immigrants in the US. We have looked at behaviors such as shoplifting, forgery, drug selling, fight starting, weapon carrying, problem gambling, and substance abuse.
Again and again, we see lower rates of problem behavior among immigrants. The pattern holds with immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. We even see that the children of immigrants tend to be less likely to be involved in most bad behaviors.Why are immigrants less prone to problem behavior?More research is needed to answer that important question, but a number of possibilities exist.
One simple explanation is that immigrants have a lot to lose, including deportation. Another explanation is that immigrants tend to self-select, such that they may be more motivated and less inclined to do things that might interfere with their economic and educational advancement.Are some immigrants involved in crime and other problem behaviors? Absolutely. But of all the bad things a person can do, in general, the least likely to do them are immigrants.
I think that, perhaps, Mr. Hopper may be unintentionally misrepresenting the real issue. The issue isn’t mischaracterization of immigrants it’s misrepresentation of the immigration issue. The problem isn’t legally migrating immigrants, it’s undocumented immigrants. Mostly, from the Mexico and Central America who come here hoping to stay undocumented so they don’t have to pay taxes. Most have to, in order to stay here in the U.S., break a plethora of other U.S. laws. Perhaps, the data isn’t out there or there’s not enough data, but I’d like to see a more genuine and creative approach to this very difficult and divisive subject than just throwing the generic name out there “immigrant”. I know I’ve heard several stories on this on NPR.