Research Shows Sanctuary Cities Are Safer

At the sanctuary cities meeting in NYC. Left to right: Austin City Council member Gregorio Casar, University of California, San Diego professor Tom Wong, Chicago City Council member Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, National Immigration Law Center policy attorney Avideh Moussavian. (Photo by Rong Xiaoqing via Sing Tao Daily)

Do sanctuary cities make themselves “less safe” as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has claimed?

Tom Wong’s answer is no. Wong, an associate professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, on March 28 shared his recent study titled “The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy” at #SEEKINGSANCTUARY, a meeting held in New York. The study found that sanctuary cities are safer and economically stronger than their non-sanctuary counterparts. Still, other speakers at the meeting noted that sanctuary cities have to not only defend but also fight back in order to better protect immigrants.

The gathering, the first of its kind in the nation, was organized by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Local Progress, a national network of progressive local legislators, and held at Borough of Manhattan Community College on March 27 and 28. Representatives from the local governments and legislative bodies of more than 30 cities and counties attended the conference. Lawmakers, activists and researchers shared ideas and the experience of protecting immigrants in the current situation in many panels. Also on the panel at which Wong spoke were Austin City Council member Gregorio Casar, Chicago City Council member Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Avideh Moussavian, policy attorney of the National Immigration Law Center.

Some time after the sanctuary city leaders started their meeting on the first day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared at the White House press briefing and vowed to claw back the funding the Department of Justice allocated to the sanctuary cities. Hesaid that by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement, these cities jeopardize their own public safety. But Wong said his study pointed in the opposite direction. [Editor’s note: Sanctuary city leaders, immigration lawyers and advocates argue that sanctuary localities are not in fact “refusing to cooperate” with federal law enforcement, but rather maintaining constitutional principles.]

Wong’s study examined close to 2,500 counties, and analyzed data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It found sanctuary counties have 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people than comparable non-sanctuary counties. In sanctuary counties, median household annual income is $4,353 higher, the poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, and unemployment rate is 1.1 percent lower than non-sanctuary counties. The results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions, but the disparities are even larger in the counties with the smallest populations. “Local police have always known that their cities are safer if they are not distracted by the immigration enforcement and can focus only on public safety,” said Wong.

But even the sanctuary cities are not absolutely safe for immigrants. Ramirez-Rosa took the recent incident in Chicago in which ICE officers raided a private home and shot an immigrant who was not their target as an example to show that even in a blue city, local government cannot block the actions of federal immigration officers. But he said that local governments have the right to not cooperate with ICE or launch their own criminal justice reform to reduce the likelihood that undocumented immigrants will be deported after being arrested for committing minor crimes. “The Trump administration considers all undocumented immigrants as priorities for deportation. But that policy can work only with the cooperation from local law enforcement,” said Ramirez-Rosa.

He also called on progressive people to not use the language of the conservatives. “If I hear more Democrats saying we are not against deportation of criminals, we’ll be in trouble,” said Ramirez-Rosa. “To Trump, every undocumented immigrant is a criminal.”

Casar also noted that sanctuary cities are not absolutely safe for immigrants. He said in Austin, the City Council made sure the head of the police department “is on our side” when it confirmed the appointment. Still, “we have laws prohibiting police shooting unarmed civilians. But look what has happened,” said Casar. (…)

Moussavian highlighted the importance of resistance by the public. She cited the recent case in El Paso, Texas, in which a woman was arrested by ICE when she went to court to seek a protection order against her abusive partner. The county attorney renounced the action. ICE claimed the arrest happened outside the court while the county attorney released a surveillance video showing ICE officers were inside the court. “ICE didn’t have to lie but they lied. It shows even ICE cares about public opinions,” said Moussavian.

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