State of K
Improving Democracy one Question at a Time
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Does granting legal status to illegal immigrants reduce their likelihood of committing crime?
Yes, granting legal status to illegal immigrants may reduce their likelihood of committing crime, but studies differ on the impact of legalization.
We believe this is the best available short answer based on our reading of the 4 studies we found that examine this question.
However, we believe this question is underresearched. Additional study may change our conclusion.
The 4 studies were published from 2015 to 2016.
The countries or regions examined by these studies are Italy and the United States of America.
Keep in mind that we strive to only include studies that directly address this question.
Evidence from studies focusing on other questions may indirectly support or undermine our conclusion.
Last updated: Dec. 11, 2017
Author of narrative summary: State of K
We estimate the effect of immigrant legalization on the crime rate of immigrants in
by exploiting an ideal regression discontinuity design: fixed quotas of residence
permits are available each year, applications must be submitted electronically on
specific “Click Days”, and are processed on a first-come, first-served basis until the
available quotas are exhausted.
Matching data on applications with individual level
criminal records, we show that legalization reduces the crime rate of legalized
immigrants by 0.6 percentage points on average, on a baseline crime rate of 1.1
Do general amnesty programs lead to reductions in the crime rate among immigrants? We
answer this question by exploiting both cross-sectional and time variation in the number of
immigrants legalized generated by the enactment of repeated amnesty programs between
1990 and 2005 in Italy. We address the potential endogeneity of the “legalization treatment”
by instrumenting the actual number of legalized immigrants with alternative predicted
measures based on past amnesty applications patterns and residential choices of
documented and undocumented immigrants.
We find that, in the year following an amnesty,
regions in which a higher share of immigrants obtained legal status experienced a greater
decline in non-EU immigrant crime rates, relative to other regions. The effect is statistically
significant but relatively small and not persistent. In further results, we fail to find any
evidence of substitution in the criminal market from other population groups - namely, EU
immigrants and Italian citizens - and we observe a small and not persistent reduction in total
We exploit exogenous variation in legal status following the January
2007 European Union enlargement to estimate its effect on immigrant
crime. We difference out unobserved time-varying factors by
(i) comparing recidivism rates of immigrants from the “new” and
“candidate” member countries; and (ii) using arrest data on foreign
detainees released upon a mass clemency that occurred in Italy
in August 2006. The timing of the two events allows us to setup a
Legal status leads to a 50 percent
reduction in recidivism, and explains one-half to two-thirds of the
observed differences in crime rates between legal and illegal immigrants.
We take advantage of provisions of the Immigration Reform and
Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which granted legal resident status to
long-time unauthorized residents but created new obstacles to
employment for more recent immigrants, to explore how
employment opportunities affect criminal behavior.
Exploiting administrative data on the criminal justice involvement of
individuals in San Antonio, Texas and using a difference-indifferences
strategy, we find evidence of an increase in felony
charges filed against residents most likely to be affected by IRCA’s
employment regulations. Our results suggest a strong relationship
between access to legal jobs and criminal behavior.