In Sunday’s Op-Ed, Brian T. Moran, the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, claims the state’s sanctuary policies are putting communities at risk [“Washington’s naive sanctuary law puts community at risk,” Opinion, Dec. 27].
Moran bases this not on empirical evidence but instead on three anecdotes of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in Washington, which he recounts in lurid detail. He claims these are just “three of the many examples” of crimes that have occurred as a result of sanctuary policies yet presents no data to actually support this.
This is, of course, all too common in the debate around sanctuary policies. Back in 2015, President Donald Trump used the accidental shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant to elevate these policies onto the national stage and to claim that this was proof that sanctuary policies, in the president’s words, “breed crime.”
However, the contention that these policies endanger communities is simply not supported by empirical evidence. In my recent book, “Sanctuary Cities: The Politics of Refuge,” my co-author, Loren Collingwood, and I show that sanctuary policies are not in any way linked to increases in crime of any type. These findings hold if crime rates are examined before and after a sanctuary resolution is passed, or if crime rates in comparable sanctuary and non-sanctuary cities are compared. Our findings are also supported by a host of other studies examining linkages between sanctuary policies and increased crime, all of which refute any connection between the two.
It is also unfortunate that someone with the background of Moran would fail to acknowledge why these policies exist in the first place, which is to encourage members of the undocumented community to cooperate with local law enforcement. Fear of deportation has been shown to decrease calls to 911 from immigrant communities, to make it less likely that Latinos would report crimes against themselves and others, and to generally decrease trust in law enforcement. Among the undocumented community, the U.S. Immigration Policy Center has found that undocumented immigrants are 60.8% less likely to report crimes they witness and 42.9% less likely to report crimes they are the victims of to the police if they believe they are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Immigration enforcement is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government, and there is no requirement that states, counties, or cities assist ICE or collect immigration-related data. Sanctuary policies do not in any way stop ICE from performing its duties in Washington, or in any city, county or state with a sanctuary policy on the books. These policies do bar local officials from inquiring into the immigration status of residents and limit the cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE, but again, the purpose is to increase cooperation between immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and local law enforcement to help make communities safer.
Moran concludes that public safety is the job of the Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and the King and Thurston county prosecutors who join Ferguson in his recent suit against the Trump administration, and in this we are in agreement. It is for this very reason that Washington became a sanctuary state, and why the attorney general and others have defended the state’s status. Washington is safer if everyone, regardless of their immigration status, feels comfortable interacting with local enforcement and reporting crimes against themselves or others. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with sanctuary policies, but this should be based on the facts and evidence, and not the fearmongering about immigrant criminality in which Moran engages.