Following the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed President Trump’s “Travel Ban” to stand, the president made his “Strong Borders, No Crime!” views unequivocally clear once again through both public pronouncements and Twitter.
Such a sentiment is abhorrently racist and xenophobic, in seeking to blame ills in our society on those who come from elsewhere. It is also just plain wrong. Solid sociological evidence indicates that immigrants are, for the most part, actually far less likely to commit crime than are American citizens.
A study published in the “American Journal of Public Health,” based on state-level data from 1999–2014, found that undocumented immigration is associated with lower rates of drug-related arrests, drug overdose deaths, and arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Similarly, a review by the Cato Institute of data from the Texas Department of Public Safety found that during 2015 rates of criminal conviction in Texas were 262 per 100,000 among legal immigrants, and 782 per 100,000 among undocumented immigrants — numbers dwarfed by the 1749 criminal convictions per 100,000 among U.S. citizens in Texas.
In short, the proposition that “strong borders” would translate into lower crime rates simply does not fit with the reality documented by real-world evidence. Immigration, even illegal immigration, is associated with lower, not higher, rates of crime.
Arguments for restricting immigration have also been made on economic grounds, essentially arguing for economic protectionism to “save” American jobs from outsiders. Not only does this line of opposition to immigration ignore the heavy dependence of some sectors of the American economy on work done by immigrants, it also ignores interesting economic evidence that more open borders might actually lead to net increases in global wealth.
An article published a year ago in the Economist argued that opening world-wide borders to more free movement and migration could potentially lead to an increase in global wealth by as much as $78 trillion, based primarily on increased opportunity and increased productivity.
Many emotional, cultural, economic factors affect individual and collective responses to immigration. For those who profess to follow Jesus, however, there is a call to subordinate these responses to higher biblical principles.
At the individual level, we are called to treat those in need just as we would treat Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). Looking beyond the individual level, the book of Proverbs is replete with exhortations to both individuals and rulers to heed wisdom.
Surely as we contemplate how to respond to questions of immigration in our country, we should consider not only our emotional responses to immigration, but also what would be the most wise course. Fear of crime and fear of economic insecurity are understandable, but there is increasing real-world evidence that immigration is associated with lower rates of crime and possibly even increased potential for overall economic wealth.
We should care and advocate for immigrants, because Jesus calls us to care for the oppressed and those in need. We must also recognize that wisdom lies on the side of understanding that immigration is associated with less crime and more economic growth, not the other way around.