Justice

The Truth About Undocumented Immigrants and Crime

January 26th 2017

By:
Kyle Jaeger

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that requires "sanctuary cities" to comply with federal immigration laws or risk losing federal funds. Part of the justification for the order, according to the president, is that cities that shield undocumented immigrants experience higher rates of crime — a claim that the White House plans to reinforce through weekly public notices.

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"To better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions," the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be required to "make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens" on a weekly basis, the executive order states.

But sanctuary cities — which generally prevent local law enforcement from handing off undocumented immigrants suspected of crimes to federal immigration agencies — don't actually have higher rates of crime compared to non-sanctuary cities, according to federal crime data analyzed by the Center for American Progress (CAP). In fact, sanctuary cities experience about 35 fewer crimes per 10,000 people than non-sanctuary cities.

"The data support arguments made by law enforcement executives that communities are safer when law enforcement agencies do not become entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts," according to the CAP. "The data also makes clear that, when counties protect all of their residents, they see significant economic gains. By keeping out of federal immigration enforcement, sanctuary counties are keeping families together — and when households remain intact and individuals can continue contributing, this strengthens local economies."

It's also a misconception that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Second-generation immigrants were involved in crimes at a rate slightly below that of native-born citizens, peaking at the age of 16 for both groups. But researchers speculate that's because "second-generation immigrants have become as susceptible to temptation and harmful influences as are other Americans."

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The problem with the president's executive order on sanctuary cities is that it could disrupt the collaborative relationship between local law enforcement and immigrant communities that have developed in these jurisdictions, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a historian who specializes in race, policing, immigration, and incarceration at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) told ATTN:.

"Local police forces have worked very hard in the last decade or so in developing strong relationships with immigrant communities, meaning that immigrants will cooperate in terms of a variety of issues happening such as domestic violence within their communities because they don't fear an arrest leading to deportation, or local police coming into their communities leading to deportation," Hernandez said. "These kinds of threats coming from the Trump administration will undo and eviscerate all of that progress that local police departments have made in the last few years."

Though a small percentage of undocumented immigrants have committed crimes — in cases that Trump sometimes highlighted during his presidential campaign — "the threats that he is making will actually compound the problem, or the problems, faced by cities and communities," Hernandez said.