How conservative media and Jeff Sessions got it wrong on sanctuary cities
© Greg Nash

In a speech on sanctuary cities to law enforcement officials in Las Vegas on July 12, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE stated: “According to a recent study from the University of California Riverside, cities with these policies have more violent crime on average than those who don’t.”

As the lead authors of this study, we find it necessary to address this claim, since it is factually inaccurate.

But how did Sessions misconstrue the finding of our report?

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It’s not clear, but conservative media on at least two occasions misrepresented our findings regarding violent crime. Fox News on June 30 and World Net Daily on April 9 repackaged our results to suggest sanctuary policies lead to increases in crime.

 

Our study found no relationship between sanctuary policies and crime when comparing cities with similar demographic characteristics in the period preceding and following the passage of a sanctuary law.

There was no statistically significant effect for these policies on property crime or violent crime and we are clear about this in the abstract as well as throughout the paper.

This suggests that sanctuary policies have no directional effect on crime rates. There are some studies that find results different than ours, largely due to differing methodologies or units of analysis, but these studies also refute Sessions’ claims, as they find lower crime rates in sanctuary counties or at the Census tract level in sanctuary cities.

The lack of a connection between sanctuary cities and higher crime rates is not in any way surprising considering the number of studies to date finding that immigrants tend to offend at lower rates than the native-born population.

A recent study by Landgrave and Nowrasteh for the Cato Institute found that both undocumented and documented immigrants are incarcerated at rates significantly lower than that of the native-born. If immigrants offend at lower rates, then we would expect either no relationship or an inverse relationship between sanctuary policies and crime, which is exactly what every study to date has found, including our own.

On the other hand, there is no research to date showing that sanctuary policies lead to increased crime (of any kind), which could be why Sessions misrepresented the findings of our research rather than providing real statistical evidence to support the administration’s claims.

Evidence showing that sanctuary policies increase crime simply does not exist.

The claims of immigrant criminality made by the Trump administration are nothing new, though these have been regularly refuted. In fact, one of the first comprehensive studies of immigration and crime in 1931 by the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement found that there was no relationship between Mexican immigration and crime. Unfortunately, these claims are regularly revived to justify immigration crackdowns similar to the one currently underway.

There are many potential benefits from sanctuary policies that are conveniently ignored by the administration and Sessions. One goal of sanctuary policies is to increase cooperation between immigrant communities and the police by reducing fear that officers will inquire into immigration status.

Based on reports from a number of cities, Latino crime reporting is down, suggesting the administration’s crackdown has already had negative effects on this cooperation.

Jennifer Medina, writing in The New York Times, notes that there has been a sharp downturn in reports of sexual assault and domestic violence by Latinos nationally, with some law enforcement officials suggesting this is due to fears of deportation.

In Houston, Latino reports of rape have dropped by 40 percent, which the chief of police himself attributes to people not reporting crime. Similarly, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Times that the decrease in reports of sexual assault and domestic violence is likely due to fears of deportation since similar decreases were not seen for other ethnic groups.

A 2013 report titled Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement found that 45 percent of Latinos were less likely to report crimes to the police because of fears that they would be asked about immigration status.

In the same speech in Las Vegas, Sessions argued that, “These jurisdictions are protecting criminals rather than law-abiding residents.” Again, the data do not support the Sessions’s claim. If anything, the administration’s crackdown is leading to fewer Latinos reporting crimes because of fear of deportation, thus providing domestic abusers, rapists and those guilty of sexual assault cover.

The benefits of sanctuary policies also go beyond police cooperation. Tom Wong, at the University of California, San Diego, found that sanctuary counties tended to have a lower percent of people in poverty or on public assistance, greater workforce participation, higher median incomes and lower unemployment than non-sanctuary counties.

We encourage Sessions’s to retract its erroneous characterization of our study and to actually consider the research that has been done on sanctuary cities before making unsubstantiated claims as occurred in Las Vegas.

Benjamin Gonzalez O'Brien is a professor of Political Science at Highline College, whose research interests include American politics, immigration policy, racial and ethnic politics and American political development. Loren Collingwood is an assistant professor of Political Science at University of California, Riverside, whose research interests include American politics, political behavior, and race and ethnic politics.


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