US Border Patrol agents escort migrants, who crossed the border between the United States and Mexico, through a gate in the border wall to be processed for their immigration claims, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in October.

Editor’s note: Steven E. Barkan is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Maine. Michael Rocque is associate professor and chair of sociology at Bates College. Both authors have written widely on crime and criminal justice topics. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more CNN Opinion here.

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Americans have often linked immigrants with crime. During the 19th century, for example, native-born Americans were flooded with messaging that branded Irish immigrants as both violent and subhuman. The association of Chinese immigrants with opium use, also in the 19th century, led to charges that these individuals were bringing vice and crime to the United States, leading to several anti-immigrant laws. The immigration of millions of Italians in the early 20th century prompted similar concerns about their supposed violent tendencies.

Steven E. Barkan

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly stoked this fear, harkening back to those earlier concerns. In launching his 2016 presidential campaign, he declared of Mexican migrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” On this past St. Patrick’s Day, he called migrants entering the United States “people coming in from prisons and jails, long-term murderers,” and the day before, he called them “animals” and “not people.”

Michael Rocque

Does immigration actually raise crime rates? Many Americans certainly think so. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, a majority responded that the large number of migrants entering the United States is causing more crime.

However, just because many people believe something does not mean it is true. Social science research regularly produces evidence filled with inconvenient facts that contradict people’s strongly held beliefs. Research and evidence on immigration and crime is one of these areas.

Based on many studies from the past two decades, the answer here is clear: Immigration does not produce more violence or other crime, and immigrants do not have higher crime rates than native-born Americans. Much research even suggests that immigration reduces crime rates and that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to commit crime. This finding applies to unauthorized immigrants as well as to those who are authorized or become citizens.

If immigrants do have lower crime rates, despite what many people think, why is this so? Several reasons seem to explain this inconvenient fact.

First, because most immigrants come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families, they are highly motivated to do well and stay out of trouble.

Second, immigrants tend to have strong family units and hold stable jobs. These advantages likely help immigrants be less crime-prone when compared with White native-born males with a similar low level of education, who often lack the supportive advantages of family and employment.

Third, many immigrants live in tightly knit communities with strong churches and other social institutions, and they own or work in small businesses. These are precisely the types of neighborhoods that criminologists say produce lower crime rates.

Fourth, immigrants who are able to migrate to the US may have advantageous social backgrounds compared with those who are not able to migrate. These backgrounds likely make them less prone to crime, as is evident among native-born Americans.

Fifth, immigrants who are not yet citizens may fear being deported if they do commit crimes.

A Mexican immigrant who saved enough to open a small business speaks to a reporter in North Carolina in 2016.

Given all the research evidence, why do so many Americans still think immigration endangers public safety? One reason is that they are not familiar with the research. Another reason is that people tend to disregard information that contradicts their strongly held beliefs. A third reason is the alarmist statements from Trump and similar remarks from others on social media that are simply false and play to people’s concerns about crime.

We’ve unfortunately seen similar disinformation spread throughout American history, which is filled with examples of native-born White Americans fearing without any evidence that immigrants and people of color would murder, assault and rape them and their children.

Many native-born Americans after the Civil War thought that Chinese immigrants’ use of opium dens in the mountain and Western states would cause them to kidnap and rape White children. During the 1930s, many also thought that Mexican immigrants’ use of marijuana would cause them to assault and murder White people. In perhaps the most far-fetched example, many White people in the early 1900s feared that Black people’s use of cocaine (which was then legal and an ingredient in Coca-Cola in its early years) would cause them to assault and murder White people. They even feared that cocaine use would make Black people extra cunning, super-strong and invulnerable to bullets!

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There was certainly no basis for any of these absurd notions, but many White people believed them anyway. Racial and ethnic prejudice fueled their fears, as it does now. People of color have historically been targeted for their behavior, as were the Irish and Italian immigrants many decades ago when they were not considered White. When we hear warnings today about immigration and crime, it appears as if most of those warnings are targeting migrants from certain nations and those who look a certain way (not White).

It is true that some immigrants do commit crime, but they commit no more crime than native-born Americans do, and, as research consistently finds, they likely commit fewer crimes. Amid the continuing controversy over immigration, we must let the facts, however inconvenient, guide the discussion and policymaking. And one inconvenient fact is clear: Immigration does not cause more crime, and it may even lower crime rates. Anyone who says otherwise either doesn’t know the evidence or just wants to inflame anti-immigrant hostility.