Do immigrants increase the crime rate?

It’s a widely held view in the politically charged debate over illegal immigration and sanctuary cities. But a UC Irvine criminologist says it’s an assumption unsupported by the facts. And a longtime Anaheim cop suggests immigrant crime is a non-issue in local law enforcement.

UC Irvine criminologist Charis Kubrin said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs program that hundreds of studies over the past 15 years have all reached the same conclusion: “Immigrants are less crime-prone than the native population” and “immigration to an area causes crime to go down rather than up.”

Retired Anaheim police Capt. Joe Vargas, who joined Kubrin in a discussion about the rising crime rate, said that in years of attending international chief of police conferences the problem of immigration “was never discussed.”

“We talked about gangs, we talked about drug trafficking, we even talked about dysfunctional family homes being a major cause of crime. Never was it immigrants,” Vargas said.

Kubrin lamented that her and colleagues’ findings “have not made their way into the public imagination. … You will hear people say left, right and center that immigrants are crime-prone, they are causing our crime rates to go up, right? The (presidential) executive orders we are seeing now reflect that assumption, and it is not true.”

Vargas said crackdowns on illegal immigration make it tougher for local law enforcement to keep communities safe:

“The challenge for the police executives in our cities is the fact that they have large immigrant communities and they have to connect with those communities … It creates a huge problem when, let’s say, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) shows up and is rounding up people and asks for local assistance, and with the social media today … the next thing you’ve got the entire neighborhood surrounding them, and now what do the local police do when they say, ‘Well, we’re not working with Immigration,’ but now we have to protect them and help them? It puts us into a bit of a tough spot.

“Plus, many people like myself … how many of our Hispanic officers are direct descendants from illegal immigrants? And now … people are saying, ‘We want you to go out and pick up people that look like your mom and dad and your aunts and uncles.’”

Kubrin and Vargas also agreed that while gang violence remains a big concern, it is not as much a scourge as in the recent past.

“The 1990s were ridiculous,” Vargas said. “I was a patrol officer and a supervisor during that era and it was routine to get four or five shootings in a single weekend. We’re light years away from that. But that doesn’t mean squat to the person who’s a victim of a gang-related crime.”

Kubrin and Vargas differed on the best way to reduce citizen-cop confrontations.

“What I think these cases raise is the question of what can be done in police departments and in police community relations, community is part of that, in order to minimize these incidents happening?” Kubrin said.

“What happened to compliance?” Vargas asked. “The number one way to reduce police use of force across the country is compliance.”

The discussion, second of two parts, is airing this week on PBS SoCal and Cox. Show times are here The show can also be viewed on You Tube.

Part one of the discussion is also on YouTube, as is the post-show Open Mic segment.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

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