STUDY: Immigrant Teens Just Say ‘No’ to Drugs, Violence and Crime

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 04, 2015

The news may be full to overflowing with stories of presidential candidates using words like “rapists” and “anchor babies” to discuss immigration, but a new study shows that teenage immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their native-born peers.

The study, “An ‘Immigrant Paradox’ for Adolescent Externalizing Behavior?” appears in the latest issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. In it, researchers examined National Survey on Drug Use and Health data for people ages 12 to 17 and discovered that immigrant teens are statistically less likely to use and sell drugs, fight, binge drink or carry guns than U.S.-born adolescents. The data were from 2002 to 2009.

“We were curious and we were familiar with the popular depiction of immigrants. As scientists we wanted to look at the best data we could find and see if it stood up to empirical examination,” lead researcher and University of Texas at Austin social work professor Christopher Salas-Wright told NBC News Latino. “Despite greater social disadvantages compared to U.S.-born Americans, immigrants tend to be less involved in problem behavior such as violence and crime and misuse of alcohol and drugs.”

About half of the national sample of more than 25,000 was made up of Latino teens, 20 percent were Asian and 20 percent identified as non-Hispanic whites. Drug use and violent behavior were lowest for those who have lived in the United States for fewer than five years and for those who were at least 12 years old when they arrived. The longer they lived in the U.S., the more the foreign-born teens tended to resemble their U.S.-born counterparts.