Even sanctuary counties tend to have lower rates of poverty or people on public assistance, higher median incomes, and lower unemployment than non-sanctuary counties.
In a speech on sanctuary cities to law-enforcement officials on July 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions 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 one of the study’s authors, this is factually inaccurate.
What our study found was that there is no relationship between a city’s sanctuary status and its crime rate, whether we look at violent or property crime. Sessions chose to simply ignore this and instead to misrepresent our study so it fit the Trump administration’s narrative that sanctuary cities “breed crime.”
When challenged, Ian Prior, a spokesman for Sessions, argued that, “The Attorney General accurately cited data from a study that clearly showed that violent crime was higher in sanctuary cities …”
This was not what we found, as we make very clear.
Sanctuary cities date back to the 1980s and Seattle’s own policy was put in place by the City Council in 2003. Sanctuary cities are usually defined as municipalities where local officials and police are forbidden from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. The purpose is to increase cooperation between immigrant communities and the police by allowing undocumented immigrants to report crime without the fear that this could lead to their deportation.
The crackdown on undocumented immigration by the Trump administration has already had a chilling effect on crime reporting by Latinos in cities like Houston and Los Angeles, where reports of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape are all down. Local officials have attributed this to fears of deportation — not actual changes in crime — which is supported by past research.
As someone who grew up in a Latino neighborhood in Southern California, I have witnessed this fear firsthand. As teenagers, my brother and I were assaulted and robbed near our friend’s apartment. When we asked our friend to have his father, who was an undocumented immigrant, call the police, he told us he couldn’t because his father could be deported if they asked about his status.
At the time, I simply accepted this as the way things were, since fear of immigration officials or the police was certainly not rare where I grew up. It wasn’t until I began researching immigration policy as a graduate student at the University of Washington, where I met my co-author Loren Collingwood, that I started to question whether this was how things had to be.
Through my research, it became clear that the claims of immigrant criminality now directed at the undocumented are in fact as old as the nation itself. In my forthcoming book, “Handcuffs and Chain Link: Undocumented Immigrants and the Politics of Criminality,” I trace the origins of today’s modern discourse on undocumented Mexican immigration to Senate Bill 5094, passed in 1929, which linked the longstanding rhetoric of immigrant criminality to their legal treatment by criminalizing undocumented entry for the first time in the nation’s history.
Congressional debate on the bill was almost exclusively concerned with Mexican immigration, with little mention of undocumented Europeans. This helped to solidify the idea of the undocumented — and specifically undocumented Mexican — immigrants as criminals, which continues to be reflected in modern discourse such as Trump’s claims that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists.
As a Latino and advocate for sensible, humane immigration reform, I am proud of Seattle’s sanctuary status and the stand taken by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Mayor Ed Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee. Policies like these are not about politics, they are about safety. We want our undocumented population to cooperate with the police, for their benefit and for our own.
There is a wealth of research showing that the undocumented offend at lower rates than the native-born population, and that sanctuary counties tend to have lower rates of poverty or people on public assistance, higher median incomes, and lower unemployment than non-sanctuary counties.
The majority of undocumented immigrants are not dangerous criminals, as the administration irresponsibly claims, nor are sanctuary policies linked to higher crime rates. These claims move us further from comprehensive immigration reform, something this country and the undocumented immigrants who have come here in search of a better life desperately need.