Monday, May 10, 2010

Crime and Migration in Latin America

Charles H. Wood, Chris L. Gibson, Ludmila Ribeiro, and Paula Hamsho-Diaz.  "Crime Victimization in Latin America and Intentions to Migrate to the United States."  International Migration Review 44, 1 (2010): 3-24.

Abstract (gated):

Among the challenges faced by Latin America at the onset of the 21st century is the increase in crime and violence that began in the mid-1980s, and which, to one degree or another, has afflicted most countries in the region. In this study we explore the potential implications of the upsurge in crime on migration by testing the hypothesis that crime victimization in Latin America increases the probability that people have given serious thought to the prospect of migrating with their families to the United States. Using Latinobarometro public opinion surveys of approximately 49,000 respondents residing in 17 countries in 2002, 2003, and 2004, the results of a Hierarchical Generalized Linear Model found that, net of individual and country-level control variables, the probability of seriously considering family migration to the United States was around 30 percent higher among respondents who reported that they or a member of their family was a victim of a crime sometime during the year prior to the survey. Evidence that victimization promotes the propensity to emigrate is a finding that contributes to an understanding of the transnational consequences of the increase in crime in Latin America, and adds a new variable to the inventory of factors that encourage people to migrate to the United States.

This is an interesting addition to the "push factor" literature on Latin American migration to the United States.  It is well-documented that political violence pushes people, but much less attention has been paid to everyday forms of crime.  Everyone talks about needing to boost economic growth in Latin America, but simply reducing crime could reduce migration.

At the same time, we need case studies to tease out the relationship and make the argument more convincing.  For example, I was struck by the fact that 67.6 percent of Mexicans reported crime victimization (the highest in Latin America) yet only 10.5 percent reported an intention to migrate.  The authors control for geographic proximity to the U.S., but something is going on here.  On the flip side, the numbers of El Salvador show about half as many self-reported victims as in Mexico, but roughly double the percentage of those saying they intended to migrate.  If crime is so important, how do we account for this?

From a methodological perspective, this is an example of how quantitative and qualitative methods can work together fruitfully.  The quantitative angle piqued my interest but left me wanting more.


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