Immigrants & Crime: Read the Graphs!

Many Americans believe that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are more likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S. In fact, crime rates among immigrants are much lower than among native-born Americans. 

In this activity, students work in small groups to analyze charts containing statistics about immigration and crime, then discuss what they have learned. 


To the teacher:

The evidence is clear: Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, commit fewer crimes—and fewer violent crimes—than native-born Americans. The American public, though, has a different perception of the criminal threat posed by undocumented immigrants.

This lesson challenges students to analyze graphs to glean the facts about immigration and crime, inviting critical thinking and reflection. 

To prepare for the class, download this pdf of charts on crime and immigration. Make enough copies for small groups to study. 

Immigrant Solidarity March
Immigrant solidarity march in Minneapolis in 2017 by Fibonacciblue.


Quiz: What do you know about immigration & crime?

Ask students to answer these quiz questions on immigration and crime.

  1. True or False

    There are high rates of crime among undocumented immigrants in the United States.

  2. True or False

    Cities with the biggest increase of undocumented workers have also had the biggest increase in violent crime.

  3. The murder rate  in the United States since 1980 has:
  • Tripled
  • Remained approximately the same
  • Increased slightly because the population has grown
  • Decreased by 40%
  • Impossible to determine because no official murder rate was calculated before 2001
  1. Compared to Americans born in the U.S., immigrants are:
  • Half as likely to be in prison
  • Twice as likely to be in prison
  • Almost three times as likely to be in prison
  • Over three times as likely to be in prison
  1. Which statement appears to be true of Miami?
  • It is larger than Philadelphia
  • The city has fewer immigrants (per 100,000 residents) than it used to
  • Crime is on the rise
  • There are more immigrants and fewer crimes
  • The city has gained more immigrants than most other cities
  • d and e are correct
  • c and e are correct
  1. True or false

    Legal immigrants are less likely  to commit crimes than either native-born Americans or undocumented immigrants.



  1. F
  2. F
  3. (d)
  4. (a)
  5. (f)
  6. T



Small Group Activity: Read the charts

Divide the class into groups of four and distribute copies of these graphs to each group.

Ask students in each group to answer the quiz questions again, this time using the information from the graphs. (The quiz is included in the pdf with the graphs.)



Class Discussion: What do we think?

Reconvene the full class. Ask students some or all of the following questions:

  • Was it hard to read the graphs and interpret what they mean? 
  • Which graphs were most difficult to understand?
  • How would you summarize the information in these graphs?
  • Did your responses to the quiz change after viewing the charts? How?
  • How do you think public perceptions of an undocumented immigrant crime problem differ from statistical evidence?
  • What might cause the discrepancy between the common perception of a crime-immigrant link and the actual numbers? Why do you think so many people have inaccurate information about immigrants?
  • What do you think are some of the consequences of this mismatch between the public’s opinions and the facts?
  • Is it important to correct people’s false information? Why or why not?
  • Can you think of ways you or we could spread accurate information in our school or community?



In a go-round, ask students to share their response to this question:

  • What struck you most about our discussion today?