Deportation, crime, and victimization


We study whether the forced removal of undocumented immigrants from the USA increases violent crime in Mexican municipalities. Using municipal panel data on homicide rates matched with annual deportation flows from the USA to Mexico, we assess whether municipalities with repatriation points experience higher violent crime when deportation flows surge. We consistently find that municipalities with greater geographic exposure to deportation flows have higher violent crime. The effects are mostly driven by increases in homicide rates of young males and minors.

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  1. 1.

    Official statistics are not yet available.

  2. 2.

    According to the 2013 Global Study on Homicide, between 1995 and 2012, homicide rates in Central America increased by 51.4%, from 17.5 to 26.5 victims per 100,000 population; positioning the 8 countries of this region as the most violent in the world (UNODC 2014).

  3. 3.

    The alternative to formal removal is voluntary return, whereby those apprehended simply agree to leave the country. The consequences of voluntary return are much less severe, as formal removal comes with a ban on reentry for a fixed period of time and renders subsequent attempts to enter the USA illegally a felony punishable by federal prison sentences.

  4. 4.

    It is important to emphasize that the increase in criminal deportations since 1996 does not necessarily imply more criminal activity among the undocumented and legal permanent resident populations. As we have already noted, IIRIRA expanded the definition of a deportable offense and made the definition retroactive. In addition, the increased propensity to use formal removal proceedings rather than voluntary returns renders all who reenter a felon under federal law. The increase in the use of formal removals is likely behind the rapid growth of federal inmates serving time for immigration violations since 2000. Finally, Miles and Cox (2014) show that many of the immigrants taken into federal custody under the Secure Communities are classified as low risk by ICE and that the program has had no measurable effect on crime in US counties (see Blake 2014 and Dingeman and Rumbaut2010).

  5. 5.

    Including the Consejo Nacional de Población, Instituto Nacional de Migración Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión Social, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and Secretaría de Salud.

  6. 6.

    Municipal population comes from the population censuses and was collected by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), the Mexican statistics agency. It is projected with information from the censuses collected every 5 years beginning in 1995. The last population census was collected in 2010.

  7. 7.

    The results of this exercise are available upon request. We did not include them in the tables to save space.

  8. 8.

    The estimates are available upon request. Cartel presence is available from 1995 to 2010.

  9. 9.

    In another exercise, we randomly assign repatriation points to any municipality in Mexico and find that there are no significant effects of deportation exposure on homicide rates.


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The authors would like to thank the anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to Álvaro Morales for his excellent work as research assistant. We are grateful to Andrea Velásquez and to the participants of the GSE Summer Forum migration workshop and LACEA for useful suggestions.

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Correspondence to Sandra V. Rozo.

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Rozo, S.V., Anders, T. & Raphael, S. Deportation, crime, and victimization. J Popul Econ 34, 141–166 (2021).

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  • Crime
  • Migration
  • Latin America

JEL Classification

  • O15
  • R2
  • K37