Immigration and crime in rural america: the case of Iowa




Carrothers, David J.

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Texas Woman's University


The popular media are rife with anecdotal reports of rampant crime perpetrated by immigrants across the U.S. A review of the literature reveals an abundance of research on the relationship between immigration and crime in urban neighborhoods that effectively debunks the media perpetuated belief that immigration causes crime as a myth. However, there remains a dearth of research and attendant literature that explores the immigration and crime nexus in rural areas of America. In response, this vanguard dissertation investigates the relationship between immigration and 16 crime rates among Iowa’s 79 rural counties. To that end, two salient research questions drive this study: 1) Does immigration affect crime in rural areas? And, 2) if so, how does immigration influence crime in rural America? The lack of suitable criminological theories is juxtaposed with the lack of relevant research and literature. In response, four competing theoretical frameworks were developed to answer the research questions. The first theory, immigration-crime affirmative nexus theory, suggests a positive connection between a foreign-born population and crime rates. The second, immigration-crime dissociation theory, disavows any connection between a foreign-born population and crime rates. The third theory, immigration-crime conditional nexus theory, acknowledges a conditional influence of a foreign-born population on crime rates, increasing some crime rates, lowering other crime rates, and having no effect on others. The fourth, immigration-crime inverse nexus theory, posits that a foreign-born population decreases crime rates. Seventeen hypotheses for the effect of percent foreign-born population on 16 crime rates and the effect of interaction between percent foreign-born population and poverty rate on the crime rates were proposed for testing. The data for the dependent variables on the 16 crime rates come from the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Iowa Community Indicator Program (ICIP) affiliated with Iowa State University. The data for the independent and control variables come from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE). Ordinary Least Squares regression was used to analyze 15 crime rates, and negative binomial regression was used to analyze murder rate because of the virtually non-existent number of murders that occurred in Iowa’s rural counties. The results of this research find a significant negative relationship between foreign-born population and crime rate for two serious crimes: motor vehicle theft and murder. Although percent foreign-born is associated with a lower crime rate, controlling for other variables, its effect is not statistically significant for the rates of six categories of crimes: total crime, violent crime, property crime, aggravated assault, forcible rape, and robbery. Surprisingly, the data suggest that foreign-born population significantly increases rates for four public order crimes: drug abuse, disorderly conduct, drunkenness, and driving under the influence. Finally, the data show a positive but insignificant effect of percent foreign-born on the rates of four crimes: burglary, larceny, simple assault, and weapons violations. The results of this study suggest that the relationship between immigration and crime is much more complicated and nuanced than what has been portrayed by the media and what was initially believed and that a holistic approach is called for in order to fully understand it. The findings also suggest that immigration-crime conditional nexus theory has the broadest applications to the nexus between immigration and crime in rural America for different types and combinations of crimes. The findings also have implications for policies and police training.



Crime, Immigration, Iowa, Rural