Posted on October 19, 2021

Are Immigrants Less Willing to Report Crime?

Jessica M. Vaughan et al., Center for Immigration Studies, October 14, 2021

This report uses new data from the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the most authoritative survey on crime reporting, to examine the claim that immigrants are less willing than others to report victimizations to authorities. This theory is one of the most frequently cited justifications for sanctuary policies. We find that the most recent data from the NCVS, which previously did not include information on citizenship and foreign birth of victims, does not support the assertion. The combined results of three years of data from this survey collected from 2017 to 2019 show that immigrant victimizations are just as likely, and in some cases more likely, to be reported to police than crimes against the native-born. This was true even though the data was collected in the first three years of the Trump administration, during which time the media and advocacy groups routinely asserted that immigration enforcement had been dramatically expanded. The data also provides insight on why some immigrants and non-citizens might not report crimes, showing that only a tiny number — about 1 percent — said that the reason for not reporting was because of fear of the authorities. There is no evidence in the NCVS data that crimes against immigrants are reported to police at lower rates than crimes against the native-born, indicating that the routine, even active, cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities that takes place in most jurisdictions does not suppress crime reporting by immigrants.

Among the findings:

  • Sixty-two percent of all serious crimes against all immigrants (citizen and non-citizen) were reported to police, compared with 53 percent of all serious crimes against native-born Americans — a statistically significant difference.
  • Fifty-seven percent of serious crimes against non-citizen immigrants (and against Hispanic non-citizens) were reported to police, which is statistically equal to the 53 percent reporting rate for native-born Americans.
  • Sixty-one percent of serious violent crimes against all immigrants in the survey were reported to police, compared with 49 percent against the native-born — a statistically significant difference. Fifty-nine percent of all non-citizen victimizations and 62 percent of all Hispanic non-citizen victimizations were reported to police.
  • Of serious violent crimes against immigrant women, 65 percent were reported to police, as were 67 percent against non-citizen women, compared with 48 percent for the native-born women — a statistically significant difference.
  • Reporting of serious and violent crimes against Hispanic non-citizens, a group that includes many illegal aliens, also generally matches or exceeds reporting of crimes against the native-born. If there were a major difference in crime reporting rates among illegal immigrants in particular, it would most likely show up in the reporting rates for this group, but the survey reveals no such meaningful difference.
  • Property crimes (the most common type of crime) against immigrants are reported at rates similar to those against native-born victims — 34 percent. Among non-citizens, the rate was 32 percent, which is not statistically different from the other groups.
  • Turning to all crime (violent and property), the NCVS shows 39 percent of all immigrant victimizations and 38 percent of all non-citizen victimizations were reported to police, compared with 37 percent of all crimes against the native-born — not a statistically significant difference.
  • For every major category of crime, only about 1 percent of immigrant victims who did not report the crime said that the reason they did not report it was because the police would be biased, would harass or cause them trouble, or because they were advised not to report it. These are the survey responses that are most likely to indicate a fear of deportation.
  • More than 80 percent of all victimizations reported to police were reported by the victim or by a member of the victim’s household. This is true for all groups analyzed: immigrants, non-citizens, and the native-born.
  • We find no evidence in the NCVS data to support the “chilling effect” theory that immigrants are more reluctant to report crimes, generally, or in the parts of the country where local authorities routinely cooperate with ICE, such as the South.