Big Data Says Don’t Blame Migrants for Terrorism

The research does not suggest a correlation between the two.
Migrants moving through a transit camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia, after entering the country by crossing the border with Greece. (Photo: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)
Feb 18, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Fears that increased immigration could be linked to a spike in terrorism have spurred presidential hopeful Donald Trump to propose banning Muslims from entering the country, deporting all undocumented immigrants, and even erecting a wall across the 2,000-mile U.S.–Mexico border. But a new study suggests such drastic measures would do little to curb extremist violence.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found that more migration could actually minimize rather than intensify the occurrence of terrorist attacks. The authors of Does Immigration Induce Terrorism?, published this month in The University of Chicago’s The Journal of Politics, used data from the World Bank to examine migration patterns between 145 countries over the span of 1970–2000. The authors then measured terrorist attacks in each country, year by year. They found no discernible link between an increase in migration and an increase in terrorism.

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Lead author Vincenzo Bove said the findings should come as no surprise to anyone who believes economic opportunity leads to a decrease in extremism. “When migrants move from one country to another, they take new skills, knowledge and perspectives,” he said in a statement. “These stimulate technological innovation and diffusion of new ideas, and this in turn stimulates economic growth.”

The study comes as immigration policy and national security have become highly debated campaign issues during this year’s presidential race, especially in the wake of the December terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people. Less than a week after the attacks were carried out by a Muslim couple said to have been inspired by terrorist groups abroad, Trump suggested barring anyone who is Muslim from entering the country. (He has offered no indication of how that might be achieved, given that passports generally do not list their holders’ religion.) In November, following a series of coordinated attacks in Paris, more than half of U.S. governors moved to block Syrian refugees from entering their states.

Bove and his coauthor did discover, however, that immigrants migrating from countries where terrorism is widespread can in some specific instances drive terrorism in their new country. Just a small fraction of migrants are associated with increases in terrorism, and most often in an indirect way, the researchers said. For example, Bove suggested that an extremist organization might exploit migrant networks and refugee communities for the purposes of recruitment.

But some analysts see a real advantage to the influx of young refugees into Europe: support for its rapidly aging workforce, which is shrinking owing to the fact that 17 percent of the population is over the age of 65. “Many migrants arriving in Europe today come with the skills and motivation to be successful and to make a contribution to their host countries’ economies,” Christian Bodewig, a program leader at the World Bank, wrote in an essay in September for the independent think tank Brookings Institution. “They have the potential to not just alleviate declining numbers of workers but also to boost innovation through fresh ideas and perspectives.”