Open Access
Harris, Casey Taggart
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Darrell J Steffensmeier, Dissertation Advisor
  • Darrell J Steffensmeier, Committee Chair
  • Jeffery Todd Ulmer, Committee Member
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Committee Member
  • Christopher Jon Zorn, Committee Member
  • immigration
  • violence
  • crime
  • arrests
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • time
It has been nearly a century since Edwin Sutherland (1927) noted that both popular sentiment and existing policy presupposed greater criminality among the foreign born than the native population. Though scholars following in Sutherland’s footsteps have continued to explore the immigration-crime link as newer waves of immigrants enter the United States, this issue remains arguably the most important substantive, political, and theoretical question facing sociology and criminology today. Unfortunately, there remain a number of persistent gaps in the empirical literature and a careful review of this research shows it to be (1) scarce and limited in scope, (2) widely varied in terms of the unit of analysis and measure of immigration, (3) focused on victimization (particularly homicide), (4) geographically limited, (5) cross-sectional, (6) focused on total (not race/ethnic-specific) crime, and (7) inconsistent in concluding whether immigration is associated with crime. Moreover, theorizing on the expected relationship between immigration and crime is under-developed and prominent theoretical frameworks suggest that immigration may be positively, negatively, or unassociated with crime, as well as operate uniquely at particular points in time or for specific race/ethnic groups. Using census-place level arrest data from California, New York, and Texas paired with corresponding U.S. Census Bureau data, the current study builds off of prior research and addresses several of these shortcomings in important ways. First, this project explores the immigration-violence relationship in 1990 and 2000 to assess whether the association between immigration and violent crime has changed over time. This approach marks a substantial advance in immigration-crime research by utilizing census-place panel data and fixed-effects (change score) methods to construct stronger causal models for exploring whether immigration is related to violence and, if so, whether this association has changed over time. Second, using race-ethnic disaggregated arrest data that include Hispanics, this project examines whether immigration impacts black, white, and Hispanic violence in unique ways. Because Hispanic arrest data are scarce, particularly prior to the year 2000, this project advances current research by utilizing census-place level arrest data (rather than victimization) that include this key group in order to compare the relationship between immigration and violent arrests for blacks, whites, and Hispanics over the 1990-2000 period. Results from seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) cross-sectional, change-score, and “changing effects” models indicate that (1) immigrant concentration is associated with increased violent crime rates for whites, blacks, and Hispanics in 1990, (2) the relationship is particularly strong for blacks, (3) the association between immigration and violence is, for the most part, null in 2000, (4) the lack of relationship between immigration and violence is racially invariant in 2000, and (5) the attenuation of the relationship between recent immigration and violence represents a statistically significant change between 1990 and 2000 only for blacks. Supplemental analyses suggest that these findings are reasonably robust and not contingent upon outliers or influential cases, specific sub-sets of the sample (e.g., large or small units or units from specific states), or the specification/operationalization of immigration at the macro-level. Politically, immigration has been both a crucial component of America’s growth and a periodic source of conflict since at least the early 1800s; in recent years it has become one of the most contentious issues on the nation’s political agenda. The current study is timely in addressing a crucial political issue – whether recent immigration flows are associated with violence and whether this association has been stable over time and across race/ethnic groups. Substantively, immigration dovetails with key themes in sociology, including stratification, social problems, social control, and social change. Social scientists are faced with the task of trying to understand the impact of immigration on our society and on the immigrants themselves, including how immigration may drive social change in communities. The current study suggests that immigration impacts violent crime in communities differently at specific points in time and across race/ethnic groups. Future research would do well to further explore this complex relationship and consider whether immigration policy aimed at reducing social problems like crime may be temporally conditioned and affect whites, blacks, and Hispanics in distinctive ways.