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Law-Abiding Immigrants: The Incarceration Gap Between Immigrants and the U.S.-Born, 1870–2020 (WP-23-26)

Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan, Elisa Jácome, Santiago Pérez, and Juan David Torres

Combining full-count Census data with Census/ACS samples, the researchers provide the first nationally representative long-run series (1870–2020) of incarceration rates for immigrants and the U.S.-born. As a group, immigrants had lower incarceration rates than the US-born for the last 150 years. Moreover, relative to the U.S.-born, immigrants’ incarceration rates have declined since 1960: Immigrants today are 60% less likely to be incarcerated (30% relative to U.S.-born whites). This relative decline occurred among immigrants from all regions and cannot be explained by changes in immigrants’ observable characteristics or immigration policy. Instead, the decline likely reflects immigrants’ resilience to economic shocks.

Ran Abramitzky, Stanford Federal Credit Union Professor of Economics, Stanford University

Leah Boustan, Professor of Economics, Princeton University

Elisa Jácome, Assistant Professor of Economics and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Santiago Pérez, Associate Professor of Economics, ​University of California at Davis 

Juan David Torres, Department of Economics, Stanford University

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