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Unformatted text preview: 28 contexts.org rethinking crime and immigration by robert j. sampson The summer of 2007 witnessed a perfect storm of controversy over immigration to the United States. After building for months with angry debate, a widely touted immigration reform bill supported by President George W. Bush and many leaders in Congress failed decisively. Recriminations soon followed across the political spectrum. Just when it seemed media attention couldn’t be greater, a human tragedy unfolded with the horrifying execution-style murders of three teenagers in Newark, N.J., attributed by authorities to illegal aliens. Presidential candidate Rep. Tom Tancredo (R–Colorado) descended on Newark to blame city leaders for encouraging illegal immigration, while Newt Gingrich declared the “war at home” against illegal immigrants was more deadly than the battlefields of Iraq. National headlines and outrage reached a feverish pitch, with Newark offering politicians a potent new symbol and a brown face to replace the infamous Willie Horton, who committed armed robbery and rape while on a weekend furlough from his life sentence to a Massachusetts prison. Another presidential candidate, former Tennessee sen- ator Fred Thompson, seemed to capture the mood of the times at the Prescott Bush Awards Dinner: “Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women, and children around the world.” Now imagine a nearly opposite, fact-based scenario. Consider that immigration—even if illegal—is associated with lower crime rates in most disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. Or that increasing immigration tracks with the broad reduc- tion in crime the United States has witnessed since the 1990s. Well before the 2007 Summer of Discontent over immi- gration, I proposed we take such ideas seriously. Based on hind- sight I shouldn’t have been surprised by the intense reaction to what I thought at the time was a rather logical reﬂection. From the right came loud guffaws, expletive-filled insults, angry web postings, and not-so-thinly veiled threats. But the left wasn’t so happy either, because my argument assumes racial and eth- nic differences in crime not tidily attributable to material dep- rivation or discrimination—the canonical explanations. Although Americans hold polarizing and conﬂicting views about its value, immigration is a major social force that will continue for some time. It thus pays to reconsider the role of immigration in shaping crime, cities, culture, and societal change writ large, especially in this era of social anxiety and vitriolic claims about immigration’s reign of terror....
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This note was uploaded on 10/29/2010 for the course SOCI 150gm at USC.