New Working Paper: Immigration and National Security: An Empirical Assessment of Central American Immigration and Violent Crime in the United States

 

January 25, 2019- In his first primetime Oval Office address, President Donald Trump called on Congress to address what he called a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the United States’ southern border, spawned in part by the recent arrival of a caravan of 6,500 migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle region.[1] In her paper, titled “Immigration and National Security: An Empirical Assessment of Central American Immigration and Violent Crime in the United States,” Daphne Blanchard examines the extent of the potential threat by gathering quantitative data of previous Central American migration flows and the impact they have had on violence in American communities. The author contends that as rhetoric from high-level politicians and news media makes connections between violent crime and immigration, political parties’ stances on immigration become more divergent — leading to the inability to agree on comprehensive immigration reform. Not only does this research add to the understanding of the potential threat of these particular migrants to U.S. communities, its findings can be generalized to the overall public debate of the nature of immigration and national security.

 

Foreign-born populations in the US

Data source: U.S. Census Bureau

Ms. Blanchard found that Central American migration has been hyperinflated in scope and potential for insecurity. Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) region, formed by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have indeed surged over the past two decades–their numbers more than double the estimated 1.5 million people from that region in 2000–and the number of unaccompanied minors and families crossing the US-Mexico border has dramatically increased since 2008.[2] However, the author argues the importance of putting their numbers in perspective, noting that this subset of immigrants constitutes less than one percent of the share of the overall U.S. population.

 

The evidence compiled by Ms. Blanchard suggests that the surge in migration from the Northern Triangle to the United States has not been accompanied by increases in violent crime that would warrant sounding the national security threat alarm. Not only did overall U.S. violent crime rates descend as Central American migration share rose; but the influx of these foreigners in 27 metro areas showed no correlation when compared to the violent crime rate changes during 2012 to 2017. When compared to homicide rate changes, the weak correlation is even more evident; and in the vast majority of cases, homicide rates declined as immigration climbed significantly. It is interesting to note that the only metro area to experience a reduction in Northern Triangle concentration was Columbus, Ohio, which also experienced a 20 percent rise in homicide rates. Not one of the 27 metros with high concentration of immigrants from the NTCA region is within the top ten of the most violent metros in the United States.

 

Northern Triangle Immigration and Homicides

Data Source: US. Census, FBI Uniform Crime Report

 

The brutal gang of El Salvadoran origins, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and claims of it infiltrating American communities, has received high level attention in social and news media. Ms. Blanchard compiled data to understand the scope and reach of this transnational gang to ascertain its potential ability to disrupt the stability and security of the nation. In her study, Ms. Blanchard found that according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), approximately ten thousand MS-13 members inhabit the United States, amounting to 0.3 percent of the overall U.S. population.[3] By comparison, there are approximately 1.4 million gang members living in the United States that make up more than 33,000 gangs.[4]  The Cato Institute reports that 0.1 percent of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrests at the border mid-year in 2018 were MS-13 gang members, similar to the statistics from prior years.[5] Of the 1.2 million violent crime offenses committed in the United States between 2012 and 2017, 345 were committed by members of the MS-13 gang.[6] Therefore, the author contends that although a legitimate concern for the communities which it inhabits, this criminal organization does not have the potential to disrupt the security of the United States as a whole. She suggests that the violence of this subgroup of a subgroup should be addressed at a local level and separated from the immigration dialogue. Ms. Blanchard contends that the conflating of all immigrants with the MS-13 gang, as has been done repeatedly through President Trump’s tweets and speeches, is unfounded and problematic.

The author offers several policy recommendations to address the surge in Central American migration, to reduce the burden on host countries, and to facilitate balanced immigration dialogue. First, the author suggests engaging media, community, and non-governmental organizations in an effort to balance the dialogue surrounding the migrants and inform the American public of the extent of the threat, thus encouraging fact-based immigration policy-making and aiding in the migrants’ assimilation. The author also urges these groups to highlight the positive results occurring in the Northern Triangle region to audiences in both in the NTCA and the United States. She contends that the hopelessness that drives migrants from their homes could be replaced with increased confidence in local governance and civic action to support the ongoing efforts towards stability and economic opportunities.

Ms. Blanchard calls on the United States government to offer sustained and increasing support to sending communities to reduce the push factors of migration. In addition, Ms. Blanchard urges the United States to support other host countries to create additional safe havens in the region through the offsetting of the onboarding costs and engaging in cooperative security initiatives. She points out that if Mexico is unable to shoulder the burden of absorbing the new arrivals or if the migrants are unable to find safe haven in Mexico, the United States is obligated by international law to hear their asylum claims on U.S. soil. Another recommendation the author offers is to give priority to bilateral workforce development initiatives that have the potential to reduce the need to migrate northward. Finally, Ms. Blanchard suggests that the United States reevaluates the traditional resettlement-based international refugee policy and consider a development-based one, which can transform refugees from a burden to a benefit for the host country.

 

 

Works Cited

[1] Times, The New York. 2019. “Full Transcripts: Trump’s Speech on Immigration and the Democratic Response.” The New York Times, January 9, 2019, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/us/politics/trump-speech-transcript.html.

[2] Lesser, G, and J Batalova. “Central American Immigrants in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, April 5, 2017.

[3] Cara Labrador, R., and D. Renwick. “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle.” Council on Foreign Relations, June 26, 2018, Backgrounder edition. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle.

[4] “2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.” U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment.

[5] Bier, David. 2018. “0.1% of Border Patrol Arrests Are MS-13.” https://www.cato.org/blog/01-border-patrol-arrests-are-ms-13.

[6] Vaughan. n.d. “MS-13 Resurgence: Immigration Enforcement Needed to Take Back Our Streets.” Center for Immigration Studies. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://cis.org/Report/MS13-Resurgence-Immigration-Enforcement-Needed-Take-Back-Our-Streets.