Are Sanctuary Cities More Dangerous Places to Live?

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“Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets”Jeff Sessions

We talked about sanctuary cities on this blog in the past. I want to devote this blog to an analysis of crime and sanctuary cities.

Donald Trump wants to punish sanctuary cities because he thinks they are a public threat. One would expect sanctuary cities to have more crime and that immigrants would have higher incarceration rates.

I want to cite two studies that contradict this narrative.

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The American Immigration Council Study (2015)

This study was authored by researcher Walter Ewing and professors Daniel Martinez (George Washington University), and Ruben Rumbaut (UC Irvine). Here is a summary of their findings:

Immigrants are Less Likely to be Criminals Than the Native-Born

Higher Immigration is Associated with Lower Crime Rates

• Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
• During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.

Immigrants are Less Likely than the Native-Born to Be Behind Bars

• According to an original analysis of data from the 2010 American Community
Survey (ACS) conducted by the authors of this report, roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born. This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.
• The 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated
Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population are significantly lower than the incarceration rate among native-born young men without a high-school diploma. In 2010, less-educated native-born men age 18-39 had an incarceration rate of 10.7 percent—more than triple the 2.8 percent rate among foreign-born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7 percent rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men.

Immigrants are Less Likely Than the Native-Born to Engage in Criminal Behavior

• A variety of different studies using different methodologies have found that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent “antisocial” behaviors; that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to be repeat offenders among “high risk” adolescents; and that immigrant youth who were students in U.S. middle and high schools in the mid-1990s and are now young adults have among the lowest delinquency rates of all young people.

The Tom Wong Study

Tom K. Wong is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Wong produced an in-depth study on sanctuary cities titled, “The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy.”

There are a number of positive features of this study. First, Wong chose to define sanctuary city the same way the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) defines the term. ICE has designated 608 cities as sanctuary cities or cities that are no willing to accept detainers. A detainer is a request that a law enforcement entity hold a person for 48 hours after their date of release so ICE can decide if they want to take a person into custody for immigration detention. The relevant document for this process is ICE Form I-247D. The intent of the detainer is clear if you read the form linked in the previous sentence.

Second, Wong compares crime rates of sanctuary and non-sanctuary cities. Third the study compares data on a number of demographic characteristics including: poverty, labor force participation and reliance on public assistance.

Here are his main findings:

• There are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
• Median household annual income is, on average, $4,353 higher in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
• The poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, on average, in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
• Unemployment is, on average, 1.1 percent lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
• While the results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions, the sanctuary counties with the smallest populations see the most pronounced effects

For the purposes of this study, the term crime refers to violent crimes like: murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults—and property crimes—burglaries, larceny, motor vehicle thefts, and arsons.

To be clear, the study is not arguing a causal relationship between being a sanctuary city and these characteristics. I use this study to show that sanctuary cities fare much better than some politicians say they do.

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