Investigating the Offending Histories of Undocumented Immigrants


  • Bianca Bersani University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Adam D. Fine University of California, Irvine
  • Alex R. Piquero University of Texas at Dallas
  • Laurence Steinberg Temple University and King Abdulaziz University
  • Paul J. Frick Louisiana State University and Learning Science Institute of Australia Australian Catholic University
  • Elizabeth Cauffman University of California, Irvine



illegal immigrants, immigrants, offending, arrest, immigration-crime nexus


This study investigates the association between undocumented immigration and crime among youthful offenders. Using official record and self-reported offending measures collected across seven-waves of data from the longitudinal Crossroads Study, the prevalence and variety of offending are compared for undocumented immigrant, documented immigrant, and US-born groups during the transition into young adulthood. Results suggest that, as compared to documented immigrants and US-born peers, undocumented immigrants report engaging in less crime prior to and following their first arrest. Conversely, official records reflect a marginally higher level of re-arrest among undocumented immigrants, particularly in the months immediately following the first arrest. This divergence in findings warrants focused consideration to disentangle whether the difference is due to differential involvement in crime, differential treatment in the justice system, or a combination of factors. Additional research is needed to test whether the results found in this study generalize to other immigrant groups and contexts. 


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Author Biographies

Bianca Bersani, University of Massachusetts Boston

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology

Bianca E. Bersani, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research examines involvement in crime over the life course, persistence and desistance from offending, immigrant-crime nexus with a specific focus on the immigrant generational disparity in offending, and marriage, marital dissolution and crime. Recent publications have appeared in Criminology, the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, and Justice Quarterly.

Adam D. Fine, University of California, Irvine

Department of Psychology & Social Behavior

Adam Fine, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. His research uses quantitative methods to examine how youth perceive and interact with the justice system, as well as how their attitudes affect crime commission and compliance with legal authorities. His recent publications have appeared in Law & Human Behavior, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Psychological Assessment, Developmental Psychology, and Child Development.

Alex R. Piquero, University of Texas at Dallas

Program in Criminology

Alex R. Piquero, Ph.D., is Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. His research interests include criminal careers, quantitative research methods, and criminological theory. He is a fellow of both the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and is a 2014 recipient of the University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Laurence Steinberg, Temple University and King Abdulaziz University

Department of Psychology

Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., is the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University, and a Distinguished Scientist at King Abdulaziz University. Dr. Steinberg’s research has focused on a range of topics in the study of contemporary adolescence, including adolescent brain development, risk-taking and decision-making, parent–adolescent relationships, school-year employment, high school reform, and juvenile justice.

Paul J. Frick, Louisiana State University and Learning Science Institute of Australia Australian Catholic University

Department of Psychology

Paul J Frick, Ph.D., is the Roy Crumpler Memorial Chair of the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University, and a Professor at the Learning Sciences Institute of Australia at the Australian Catholic University. His research investigates the many interacting causal factors that can lead children and adolescents to have serious emotional and behavioral problems. His work uses this research to enhance the assessment and diagnosis of childhood psychopathology and to design more effective interventions to prevent and treat such problems.

Elizabeth Cauffman, University of California, Irvine

Department of Psychology & Social Behavior

Elizabeth Cauffman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior, Education, and Law at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on the development, assessment, and treatment of antisocial behavior and other types of risk problems in adolescence. She is particularly interested in applying research on normative and atypical development to issues with legal and social policy implications.  Dr. Cauffman is currently the Director of the Center for Psychology & Law ( as well as the Director of the Masters in Legal & Forensic Psychology at UCI (




How to Cite

Bersani, B., Fine, A. D., Piquero, A. R., Steinberg, L., Frick, P. J., & Cauffman, E. (2018). Investigating the Offending Histories of Undocumented Immigrants. Migration Letters, 15(2), 147–166.