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Closing Argument

What Crime Data Says About the Effects of Texas Busing Migrants

The influx has sparked fears of rising crime in some cities. The Marshall Project looked at policing data to see if the anxiety reflects reality.

A group of migrants exit from a bus parked in the middle of a street. The U.S. Capitol can be seen in the background.
Migrants disembark a bus from Texas as they are dropped off in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 11, 2022. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing migrants to New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Denver to highlight his criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says since 2022, his state has transported more than 100,000 migrants to “sanctuary cities” around the country, sparking fears in several northern and western cities of a looming crime wave.

New York City has been a center of this anxiety, fueled by a handful of high-profile incidents, including a “brawl” between officers and migrants in Times Square, the shooting of a tourist, and a recent raid on an alleged robbery ring. In a controversial move, Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, joined that raid, an extension of his often harsh rhetoric around immigration.

Following the arrests, New York Police Commissioner Edward Caban said that “a wave of migrant crime has washed over our city, but by no means do the individuals committing these crimes represent the vast number of people coming to New York to build a better life.”

It’s not just New York. Recent national polling shows immigration is a top issue for voters heading into the 2024 election, and a majority of respondents in a different poll said migrants seeking to enter the U.S. were tied to higher crime rates. There is a partisan divide, with Republicans much more likely than Democrats to respond this way.

But national and local data doesn’t support the immigrant crime wave narrative. The Marshall Project has previously reported that there is no evidence linking an increase in immigration to higher local crime rates — whether it’s unauthorized, or includes lawful immigrants.

The Marshall Project took a closer look at crime data in cities that received a significant number of migrants from Texas since spring 2022 — including New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Denver. Our analysis showed that despite recent media coverage, policing data doesn’t show a link between crime and the recent influx of migrants. Rather, crime in these cities largely follows national trends for big cities.

For instance, crime data shows that robberies — which have drawn a lot of attention in destination cities — were on the rise in 2021 and 2022, before Texas started sending migrants north. By the end of 2023, cities like New York and Denver saw their robbery rates returning to pre-pandemic levels, while D.C. and Chicago saw their robbery rates surpassing 2019 levels, according to data compiled by the Council on Criminal Justice, which analyzed crime data from more than 30 U.S. cities.

While policing data can help us understand how migration affects crime, it has limitations. Most data does not include the immigration status of people arrested — in fact, local police have pushed back on checking the status of the people they arrest or encounter.

Cities nationwide saw an increase in the most serious crimes like murders and shootings at the beginning of the pandemic, but by 2023, that trend was going downward. Property crimes like shoplifting and burglary showed the opposite. Most property crimes declined early in the pandemic, as people stayed home and stores shut down. More recently, many cities have seen a surge in property crimes — in some cases, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, according to the Council on Criminal Justice’s data.

Leaders in some cities have focused on issues other than crime when discussing challenges brought on by Texas’ busing. In both Denver and D.C., city officials have discussed housing and the costs of meeting the basic needs of migrants. “This is a plan for shared sacrifice. This is what good people do in hard situations as you try to manage your way to serve all of your values,” said Denver Mayor Mike Johnston about planned budget cuts.

Migrants arrive in places that are enduring challenges, such as immigrant neighborhoods facing gun violence and barriers to employment. In a time of outcry over retail theft, the sheriff in Chicago arrested the alleged leaders of a ring that compelled recent migrants to shoplift inexpensive items in exchange for fake identification documents. Service providers said desperation for work and housing makes migrants vulnerable to such scams.

As the 2024 general election draws closer, the political tension around immigration and crime will likely grow. Immigration was a central issue in the race to fill the U.S. House seat in New York once held by scandal-ridden Rep. George Santos. The Republican candidate, Mazi Pilip, aired a campaign ad in which the narrator says “Biden’s open border leads to violence right here,” over footage of the scuffle between New York Police Department officers and men outside a shelter near Times Square. Not to be outdone, Democrat Tom Suozzi, also made toughness on immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. Suozzi won the election Tuesday.

And earlier this week, after Republicans shut down a bipartisan border security bill, the GOP-controlled House impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, blaming him for the influx of migrants. The impeachment has little to no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Geoff Hing Twitter Email is a data reporter for The Marshall Project. He has worked as part of investigative, data and news applications teams in a number of newsrooms. At The Arizona Republic, Geoff covered demographic change in the state and contributed data reporting to enterprise projects on water use and prison labor. At APM Reports, he covered voting rights and analyzed police use-of-force data and records as part of a team investigating the efficacy of Tasers. And while at The Chicago Tribune, Geoff helped analyze and visualize police accountability and shooting data.

Weihua Li Twitter Email is a data reporter at The Marshall Project. She uses data analysis and visualization to tell stories about the criminal justice system. She studied journalism and comparative politics at Boston University and graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in data journalism.

Ilica Mahajan Twitter Email is a computational journalist at The Marshall Project. She builds tools and analyzes data to uncover the complexities of the criminal justice system.