Study finds immigrant teens less likely to engage in delinquent behavior

Catherine Marfin

A UT professor has found that immigrant youths are statistically less likely than their American-born counterparts to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as illicit drug use, violence and gun-carrying.

Christopher Salas-Wright, assistant professor of social work, analyzed demographics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health collected from 2002 to 2009 for his research. Seth Schwartz, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Miami, said the findings were in contrast to the political rhetoric of presidential candidates, who have said that immigrants in the United States have negatively impacted American ethics and culture.

“We want the public to know that the data is saying something very different from what Trump is saying,” Schwartz said. “Of course some immigrants commit crimes, but by and large they are less likely to do so compared to people born in the U.S.”

Nestor Rodriguez, a UT sociology professor, said there is a link between familial ties and lower rates of illicit behavior among immigrant families.

“Immigration is often organized and carried out by entire families. The strong normative rules that accompany the importance of familial ties eliminate any ethical deviants,” Rodriguez said.  

While the analytics focus solely on adolescents aged 12–17 who have recently entered the United States, scholars such as Monica Faulkner, a research associate professor in the School of Social Work at UT, said she hopes this study will pave a new way of thinking about immigration in the U.S.

“Immigrants are not bringing crime and substance use to America,” Faulkner said. “It is very important to start to dispel these harmful myths and acknowledge the true role immigrants continue to play in American society. For social workers who have worked in the field with immigrants, the findings validate what we already know.”

In light of recent ideas about immigration reform in the United States, researchers hope the data will shed a clearer light on the impact immigrants have on American culture.

“The fact that there are lots of immigrants and lots of crime doesn’t automatically mean that the immigrants are the ones committing the crimes,” Schwartz said. “This kind of syllogistic reasoning simply doesn’t work.”