Students Staff

03 November 2016

Immigration amnesties; a potential win-win in the fight against crime

Photo of Giovanni Mastrobuoni

Profesor Giovanni Mastrobuoni.

Fear of deportation makes illegal immigrants considerably less likely to report a crime to the police, making them vulnerable and giving criminals a free rein, according to a new study co-authored by Professor Giovanni Mastrobuoni from our Department of Economics.

The study uses data from the National Crime Victimisation Survey and focuses on the direct aftermath of the US immigration amnesty that happened as part of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

The act granted legal status to approximately 2.7 million illegal immigrants, largely from Hispanic communities.

When legal status was gained, immigrants were three times more likely to report a crime in which they had been a victim.

This research follows on from a previous study, also co-authored by Professor Mastrobuoni, which found that newly released illegal immigrant prisoners in Italy who were then granted legal status were 50 percent less likely to reoffend than those who remained classified as illegal.

That study related to those whose original crime was an economically motivated one, such as burglary or theft, and the focus was the aftermath of a mass clemency in Italy in 2006 that resulted in the release of 22,000 prisoners, including more than 9,600 non Italians, from jail. The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union on January 1, 2007 then effectively granted legal status to some of the released prisoners overnight.

Speaking of the research, Professor Mastrobuoni said, “Immigration has featured heavily in the US Elections and, globally, there is currently a lot of concern over how to deal with large numbers of undocumented immigrants. One way is with an amnesty.

“Without legal status you suffer the inability to protect yourself and your property. We have shown that immigrants with legal status are both more likely to both report a crime and less likely to reoffend if already convicted. Surely this has to be a good thing.”

Silence of the Innocents: Illegal Immigrants’ Underreporting of Crime and their Victimisation was authored by Professor Mastrobuoni and Stefani Comino from Università di Udine and Antonio Nicolò from the Universities of Padua and Manchester.

Legal Status and the Criminal Activity of Immigrants was authored by Professor Giovanni Mastrobuoni and Paolo Pinotti from Bocconi University and was a winner in the 2016 American Economic Association Best Paper Awards.

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