Posted on May 13, 2024

Migrant Crime Is Politically Charged, but the Reality Is More Complicated

Martin Kaste, NPR, May 9, 2024

It’s no surprise immigration is a hot political issue this year, as the number of foreign-born people in the United States reaches record levels and waves of migrants throng the southern border applying for asylum. What’s less clear is why candidates are campaigning on the issue of migrant crime.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have highlighted cases such as the killing of nursing student Laken Riley in February, allegedly by a migrant from Venezuela.


But national statistics show no sign of a migrant-driven crime wave. Violent crime is trending down, after the spikes of 2020-2021, even as migration has surged. Past studies have found immigrants to be less likely to commit crimes. While it’s possible the newer arrivals are contributing to crime rates, it’s nearly impossible to tell how much, as the FBI’s statistics aren’t parsed by immigration status.

Still, at the local neighborhood level, some see a problem.

“Unfortunately, crime is up,” Carlos Chaparro says in Spanish. He runs a vocational school on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York. It’s a traditionally Latin American neighborhood that has become a magnet for many of the approximately 190,000 migrants who’ve come through New York in the last two years.

“My clients say that when they leave [the school] at night, they’re being attacked and mugged, increasingly in the last year,” he says.

NPR talked to more than 20 people along this commercial strip, and they all said their impression was that crime has gone up in the last year. It’s a trend that is reflected in the statistics. According to the New York City Police Department’s CompStat system, crime in this precinct is up more than 15% in the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year, while it’s down in the city as a whole. Robbery is up more than 40% in the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year.

“It happens a lot,” says Johnny Velasquez, as he comes from his night shift as a security guard in Manhattan. Like Chaparro, he says there has been a lot more theft in the neighborhood lately — especially the grab-and-run kind.

“It’s an everyday thing. People on the scooters, like driving by while you’re on the phone, they’ll take it. Every day, you walk here, you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” he says.

Velasquez, Chaparro and others on the street blame the influx of newcomers.


Meanwhile, the question of migrant crime in New York City has become politically charged, as local news reports focus on migrants accused of attacking police and participating in organized theft rings.

Most alarming to some are the dire news stories about a violent new gang.

Tren de Aragua is a Venezuelan prison gang that has spread to other South American countries, and there have been reports of migrants in the U.S. sporting the gang’s tattoos.