Where Robert J. Sampson/Harvard goes wrong in his immigrant crime study
From this story by Alex Koppelman:
On Monday, Salon spoke with professor Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard University [wjh.harvard.edu/soc/faculty/sampson] and most prominent member of a new school of academics who say that, contrary to widespread public belief, immigrants may actually be the secret to decreasing crime in the U.S. Sampson et al. believe their research shows immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, and that immigration itself may actually play a role in lowering the overall crime rate. Salon asked Sampson to rate O'Reilly and Rivera as debaters, and to explain what his research says about immigrants and Americans' perceptions of them.
Let's see what's wrong with his thinking:
[Koppelman: But, if they weren't here the crimes wouldn't have happened, right?] ...So yes, you can think of counterfactuals -- if a category of persons were not actually here, then yes, the crime would not have been committed. But let's extend that logic: If the majority of people who are in the category of producing most drunk-driving homicides or deaths were not in the country then by definition the rate of drunk-driving deaths would be reduced. So who is that? Well, they're young people, disproportionately male, disproportionately white, mainly suburban ... The perception and the stereotype is what's driving the argument, not the data.
What Sampson clearly doesn't understand is that those illegal aliens weren't supposed to be here. On the other hand, those U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who commit crimes are - for good or for ill - part of our "natural order of things". While there are certainly large numbers of Americans many of us would like to deport, we no longer do the banishment thing. On the other hand, we can deport illegal aliens. What's driving Sampson's argument seems to be something besides being able to think things through.
Since he apparently likes reading his email, please drop him a (polite) line: rsampson *at* wjh.harvard.edu