In America, as in Europe, anti-immigrant backlashes have often followed episodes in which foreigners are blamed for crimes and other problems. But statistical studies show that in the United States, at least, immigrants are far more law-abiding than natives, regardless of race, class or education.
“Immigrants have always been a convenient scapegoat,” Walter A. Ewing, a senior researcher at the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit group in Washington, said on Wednesday.
“It’s always easy to blame the other group for all of society’s problems,” Mr. Ewing said in a telephone interview. While the immigration circumstances of Europe and the United States are obviously different, he said, “there’s a universality to xenophobia, a knee-jerk reaction. It’s fear, lashing out at what you’re afraid of.”
Mr. Ewing collaborated with Rubén G. Rumbaut, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Daniel E. Martinez, an assistant sociology professor at George Washington University, on a study released this past July that used census data, F.B.I. data and other statistical data to rebut stereotypes about immigrants. It showed, for example, that between 1990 and 2013, as the foreign-born share of the United States population nearly doubled and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled, violent crime declined 48 percent and property crime fell 41 percent.
The study also showed that incarceration rates of native-born Americans were far higher than of migrants.
Such findings, the study said, reiterated what other research had confirmed for more than a century: “The overwhelming majority of immigrants are not ‘criminals’ by any commonly accepted definition of the term.”
Mr. Rumbaut said in a telephone interview that the authors of the study, which had been in the works for more than a year, gave it a wide release through the American Immigration Council, rather than as a more obscure scholarly publication, to counter a surge of anti-immigrant political talk at the time.
“An immigrant does not come here to commit crimes and get on welfare,” Mr. Rumbaut said. “They come here to work harder than native-born people do.”
While the latest anti-immigrant reactions in the United States have not been as brazen as the backlashes seen recently in Finland, Germany and Italy, the perceived connection between foreigners and crime has been a dominant theme on both sides of the Atlantic.
Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, for example, has been widely accused of stoking anti-immigrant passions by proposing a wall to keep out what he described as rapacious Mexicans, and a moratorium on travel to the United States by all Muslims from abroad because they might include terrorists.
Mr. Rumbaut said that the perception of immigrant illegality has thrived regardless of evidence that refutes it.
“It’s a ‘zombie idea’ — one that keeps coming back from the dead,” he said.
A 2007 study by Mr. Rumbaut and Mr. Ewing also showed most immigrants are law-abiding, as did a study published around the same time by Robert J. Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, which showed in an inverse relationship between immigration and crime, a pattern that Mr. Sampson said “upends popular stereotypes.”
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