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Immigration, Crime, and Victimization: Rhetoric and Reality

Posted: 31 Oct 2012  

Marjorie S. Zatz

Arizona State University (ASU)

Hilary Smith

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Date Written: December 2012


Contrary to popular perceptions that immigration increases crime, the research literature demonstrates that immigration generally serves a protective function, reducing crime. This review takes as its starting point the contradiction between the rhetoric and the reality of immigration and crime in the United States. We begin by exploring the conditions under which immigration reduces crime and those under which it has less or no effect, with particular attention to traditional and new destination sites. We then demonstrate how the moral panic about immigration has contributed to unprecedented levels of new legislation and intensified enforcement practices. These new laws and policies, we suggest, are making immigrants and their communities less safe. We consider some of the ways in which immigrants have become more vulnerable and how that vulnerability is patterned and nuanced. We close by examining recent research in other parts of the world, finding some similarities but also differences in the relationships among immigration, crime, and victimization.

Suggested Citation

Zatz, Marjorie S. and Smith, Hilary, Immigration, Crime, and Victimization: Rhetoric and Reality (December 2012). Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Vol. 8, pp. 141-159, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

Marjorie S. Zatz (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

Farmer Building 440G PO Box 872011
Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

Hilary Smith

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs ( email )

1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80918-7150
United States

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