Journal article Open Access

Effects of Immigrant Legalization on Crime †

Baker, Scott R.

I examine the effects that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost 3 million immigrants, had on crime in the United States. I exploit the IRCA's quasi-random timing as well as geographic variation in the intensity of treatment to isolate causal impacts. I find decreases in crime of 3-5 percent, primarily due to decline in property crimes, equivalent to 120,000-180,000 fewer violent and property crimes committed each year due to legalization. I calibrate a labor market model of crime, finding that much of the drop in crime can be explained by greater labor market opportunities among applicants.

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