Could Milwaukee's relatively low immigration rate (7.7% foreign-born) be partially responsible for its stubbornly high crime rate? That is a new theory being tested by scholars and criminologists throughout the U.S.
One study, was conducted by Harvard University sociology professor Robert J. Sampson, and followed 3,000 youths (aged 18-25) in 180 Chicago neighborhoods from 1995 to 2002. The findings revealed that Latinos perpetrated violence 10% less than their white counterparts. The researcher also found the odds of perpetrating violence were 85% higher for blacks compared with whites. Surprisingly, the reasons behind these disparities were largely not economic.
"That's not to say that the socioeconomic context you grow up in doesn't help explain the gap," says Sampson, "but in terms of family structure and characteristics, what matters instead of poverty are a family's years of residence in the neighborhood, having married parents, and living in an immigrant neighborhood, all of which reduce a youth's risk of engaging in violence." For instance, the study attributes the low rate of violence among Mexican Americans to a combination of factors: that group's high proportion of married-couple families, residence in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants, and individual's first- or second-generation immigrant status. PRBThe relationship of high-immigration and relatively low violent crime rates seems to explain trends in cities including New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. Conversely, "low-immigration" cities with relatively high crime rates include Milwaukee, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Of course, some cities don't fit this model at all - Boston has seen an up-tick in crime since 1999 despite high levels of immigration. Some skeptics also point to the fact that many of these immigrant neighborhoods have benefited from "community policing" tactics, which could also be the reason why these neighborhoods are showing reductions in crime.
Successfully reducing violent crime rates is a complex and multi-faceted proposition, no doubt. But experts seem to be suggesting that one such tool to reduce crime rates would be to encourage more immigration, not less.