The Dangerous Myth That Sanctuary City Policies Encourage Victims and Witnesses to Cooperate with Local Law Enforcement
Issue Brief Written by Matt O’Brien | March 30, 2018 | View as a PDF
Since the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, hundreds of cities and municipalities across the country have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” A sanctuary city is a municipality, or other state/local subdivision, that, by law or policy, prohibits local officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.1 In other words, it’s a case of American cities blatantly violating federal statutes against harboring illegal aliens.2
Proponents of these policies claim that they do not interfere with federal law enforcement activities.3 Rather, they claim, such policies simply leave immigration enforcement to the federal government. But that is semantic hairsplitting. Sanctuary policies are nothing other than a deliberate attempt by state and local entities to impede the enforcement of federal immigration laws.4
State and local law enforcement officers are far more likely to encounter criminal aliens during routine job activities than are federal agents.5 As such, the ability of state and local law enforcement officers and government officials to freely cooperate and communicate with federal immigration authorities is not just important – but essential – to public safety.6
The Claim: Sanctuary Policies Enhance Information Sharing Between the “Immigrant” Community and Law Enforcement
The current model of policing management preferred by most law enforcement agencies is called “community policing.”7 It relies on the notion that police officers should be seen as part of the communities they serve and that they require the cooperation of victims and witnesses to solve crime and convict offenders.8
Sanctuary proponents claim that if state and local police officers are seen as “immigration agents,” then illegal aliens who are the victims of crime, or witnesses to crime, will not come forward to aid police.9 In effect, they are claiming that good immigration enforcement interferes with the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to stop child predators, drug dealers, rapists or robbers.10
Why the Claim is False
- There’s no proof. There is simply no documented evidence indicating that any illegal alien has ever been deported solely as a result of reporting a crime or volunteering information to the police.11 As a practical matter, when police are offered information about a crime, they do not inquire about the immigration status of the person volunteering it; they do not “bite the hand that feeds them.” Moreover, prosecutors have no interest in removing the witnesses they need to successfully obtain convictions against criminals.
- Like everyone else in the United States, illegal aliens can offer information that may be valuable to police investigations on various anonymous “tip-lines.” Jurisdictions do not need sanctuary policies in order to acquire information this way.12
- Sanctuary policies don’t provide illegal aliens with any permanent form of immigration relief. The administration of our immigration laws falls solely within the jurisdiction of the federal government. State and local authorities cannot provide illegal aliens with any type of immigration status.13 They can only harbor illegal aliens and help them evade U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – both of which are serious violations of federal law.14
- The federal government administers a number of programs that allow state and local police to seek lawful status for illegal aliens who aid in the prosecution of criminals. Illegal aliens who have valuable information that they do want to share with law enforcement, but who feel nervous about doing so, have no legitimate concerns about being deported. If illegals provide helpful information to police, they may qualify for a “S,” “T,” “U” or “VAWA” nonimmigrant visa, which, in-turn, would allow them to apply for permanent legal status in the U.S.15 Where those visas are not appropriate, the federal government may also provide cooperating victims and witnesses with deferred action or parole.16
- Most illegal aliens don’t cooperate with police, even in sanctuary cities. The vast majority of illegal aliens come from countries where law enforcement authorities are either corrupt or serve as a tool of state oppression.17 They don’t suddenly begin trusting American police officers because of sanctuary policies.
And gangs – which are inextricably tied to crime in illegal alien neighborhoods – often exact retribution from anyone who is viewed as collaborating with law enforcement.18 As a result, most illegal aliens have no interest in cooperating with policing authorities at all.19 In most cases, they will only speak with investigators if they are likely to receive some form of immigration status in return for their testimony.
- Sanctuary policies diminish trust in the integrity of law enforcement and may actually inhibit information-sharing. Community policing strategies were developed from a study called Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities.20 The authors found communities that discourage all public safety violations, from low-level offenses such as vandalism to administrative building code violations, are most successful in reducing serious crimes because they promote a culture of compliance with the law.
Conversely, cities that ignore and promote illegal immigration – usually for political gain – erode civic trust in law enforcement. They send a clear message that law enforcement agencies in sanctuary jurisdictions are willing to tolerate a certain level of lawlessness.21 The result is a chilling effect; fewer residents may be willing to approach police if they believe that officers are only willing to enforce certain laws against certain law-breakers under certain conditions. Uniformly enforcing all laws for all residents of a particular jurisdiction demonstrates integrity and fairness and fosters open dialogue.
- Sanctuary policies increase criminal activity by illegal aliens. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 68 percent of released prisoners wind up being arrested for another criminal offense within three years and 76.6 percent end up being re-arrested within five years.22 Sanctuary policies shield illegal alien criminals from arrest and removal by ICE when they are released from local jails and state prisons. As a result, illegal alien criminals return to American communities, where they regularly commit new crimes.23 Many criminal illegal aliens seek out sanctuary jurisdictions because they know living in one significantly reduces the chance that they will be deported if arrested by local police.24 On the other hand, cooperating with ICE to identify and remove criminal aliens results in their removal from the United States, protecting Americans and lawfully present immigrants from further victimization.
How Many Criminal Aliens Are Allowed Back Onto Our Streets by Sanctuary Policies?
According to ICE estimates, roughly 2.1 million criminal aliens are currently living in the United States, over 1.9 million of whom are subject to deportation.25 It’s tough to determine how many of those criminal aliens have evaded capture by immigration authorities because of sanctuary policies.
Most correctional institutions distinguish only between American-born and foreign-born inmates. The foreign-born category includes illegal aliens, nonimmigrant visa holders, lawful permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens. Virtually none of the policing and corrections agencies in the United States keep clear statistics on how many illegal aliens they process each year.
Here’s what we do know:
- The San Francisco County Jail houses roughly 15,000 inmates during a typical year.26
- According to the Public Policy Institute of California, roughly 17 percent of inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are foreign-born.27
- Assuming only half of those inmates are aliens (as opposed to naturalized citizens), and that only half of those aliens are unlawfully present, the CDCR illegal alien population would be roughly 4 percent.
- If the San Francisco County Jail population breaks down in a similar fashion that would mean that the County of San Francisco releases approximately 600 illegal alien criminals back into the community each year, without informing ICE.
- The actual number of criminal aliens turned loose is probably much higher.
Consider that, in addition to San Francisco, a number of huge American cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have also declared themselves to be sanctuary cities.28 That means that state and local governments are actively harboring thousands of illegal aliens each year and then releasing them into American communities, without so much as a nod to ICE.
Sanctuary policies don’t encourage information sharing between immigrant communities and local police. That’s because they don’t offer illegal aliens a path to any form of lawful status in exchange for their cooperation. State and local governments have no authority to confer any type of immigration status.
As such sanctuary policies just result in state and local agencies aiding and abetting illegal aliens as they continue to violate our immigration laws. And illegal aliens know this, that’s why they flock to sanctuary jurisdictions.
Accordingly, there is no reliable evidence that sanctuary policies have ever encouraged a single illegal alien to cooperate with local law enforcement authorities. But there are numerous examples of law abiding citizens who have become the victims of illegal alien crimes in sanctuary jurisdictions throughout the United States.
So – apart from buying into the sanctuary myth – what can a city do to foster information sharing and keep communities with large immigrant populations safe?
- Recognize that many immigrants, both legal and illegal, are generally hesitant to provide information to police. This may be the result of experiences in their home country or a desire not to be perceived as a “snitch.”
- Ensure that local policing agencies engage regularly with immigrant communities and consistently demonstrate that American police officers uniformly enforce all laws for all residents of their jurisdictions.
- Educate community members and law enforcement officers so they understand that, in certain circumstances, DHS may provide illegal alien crime witnesses or victims some form of relief from removal with an “S,” “T,” “U” or “VAWV” visa.
- Abolish sanctuary policies and let ICE do its job. If the governments in sanctuary jurisdictions were really concerned about fighting crime, they would cooperate with ICE to permanently remove illegal alien criminals from their communities. Doing so would ultimately increase the number of resources available to deter crime because every dollar ICE spends removing a criminal alien from the United States is one that local communities don’t have to expend on criminal justice costs.
Although the federal government is responsible for regulating immigration, state and local law enforcement play an important role in helping to ensure that immigration law is effectively enforced. Illegal and unconstitutional sanctuary city policies undermine the rule of law and prevent local, state and federal law enforcement agencies from working in conjunction with each other as they should.
They put law-abiding members of our communities at risk. Kate Steinle was murdered by an illegal alien who was deported five times and had a lengthy felony record. Ms. Steinle is only the most recognizable of hundreds of Americans who have been killed by illegal aliens with extensive criminal records who should have been removed from the United States after their first conviction.
Tolerating illegal immigration and providing a “safe haven” for illegal aliens is unfair to immigrants who respect our nation’s laws. In addition to waiting months or years to come here, legal immigrants abide by the entry, employment, health, and processing laws and regulations set by our government. Besides giving future prospective immigrants little incentive to follow the law, sanctuary policies are an affront to those who do it the right way.
Footnotes and endnotes
1Federation for American Immigration Reform, “State Sanctuary Policies,” https://fairus.org/issue/publications-resources/state-sanctuary-policies
2Offices of the United States Attorneys, “1907. Title 8, U.S.C. 1324(a) Offenses,” U.S. Attorney’s Manual, https://www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1907-title-8-usc-1324a-offenses and “1913. 8 U.S.C. 1327 – Aiding Entry of Certain Criminal or Subversive Aliens,” https://www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1913-8-usc-1327-aiding-entry-certain-criminal-or-subversive-aliens
3Editorial Board, “When Cities Refuse to Enforce Immigration Laws: Is Chicago a Sanctuary for Nullification,” Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-sanctuary-cities-sessions-edit-0330-jm-20170329-story.html
4Federation for American Immigration Reform, “Sanctuary Cities: Obstructing Immigration Enforcement,” October 2, 2015, https://fairus.org/sites/default/files/2017-08/Sanctuary_Cities-Obstructing_Immigration_Enforcement_10-2-2015.pdf
5Joel Gehrke, “Report: U.S. Spent $1.87 Billion to Incarcerate Illegal Immigrant Criminals in 2014,” July 28, 2015, https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/07/nearly-2-billion-spent-jailing-illegal-immigrant-criminals-america-2014/
6Federation for American Immigration Reform, “The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement in Immigration Matters and Reasons to Resist Sanctuary Policies,” January 2016, https://fairus.org/issue/illegal-immigration/role-state-local-law-enforcement-immigration-matters-and-reasons-resist
7U.S. Department of Justice, “Community Policing Defined,” Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Revised Edition 2014, https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p157-pub.pdf
8James Q. Wilson, George L. Kelling, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” The Atlantic, March 1982, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/
9Chuck Wexler, “Police Chiefs Across the Country Support Sanctuary Cities Because they Keep Crime Down,” Los Angeles Times, March 06, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wexler-sanctuary-cities-immigration-crime-20170306-story.html and Debra A. Hoffmaster, Gerard Murphy, Shannon McFadden, Molly Griswold, “Police and Immigration: How Chiefs Are Leading Their Communities Through the Challenges,” Police Executive Research Forum, 2010, http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Immigration/police%20and%20immigration%20-%20how%20chiefs%20are%20leading%20their%20communities%20through%20the%20challenges%202010.pdf
10Tanvi Misra, “Harsh Policing of Immigrants Is Bad for Everyone,” CityLab, January 26, 2016, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2016/01/immigration-policing-enforcement-287g-durham-alamance-north-carolina/423723/
11Heather MacDonald, “Crime and the Illegal Alien,” Center for Immigration Studies, June 1, 2004, https://cis.org/Crime-Illegal-Alien
12Cynthia Lum, PhD, “Tip Line Technologies: Intelligence Gathering and Analysis Systems,” National Institute of Justice, July 1, 2005, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/211677.pdf
13Todd Shepherd, “Term ‘Sanctuary City’ Is Misleading to Illegal Immigrants,” Washington Examiner, April 2, 2017, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/term-sanctuary-city-is-misleading-to-illegal-immigrants/article/2619119
14Federation for American Immigration Reform, “The Law Against Hiring or Harboring Illegal Aliens,” December 1999, https://fairus.org/issue/illegal-immigration/law-against-hiring-or-harboring-illegal-aliens
15Karma Ester, “Immigration: S Visas for Criminal and Terrorist Informants,” Congressional Research Service, July 19, 2005, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RS21043.pdf; Chelsea Phua, “Obscure Visa Helps Illegal Immigrants Who Witness Crimes,” Sacramento Bee, July 8, 2010, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/immigration/obscure-visa-helps-illegal-immigrants-who-witness-crimes/article_46ce41ee-8a9f-11df-99ed-001cc4c03286.html; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “U and T Visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide,” https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/PM_15-4344%20U%20and%20T%20Visa%20Law%20Enforcement%20Resource%20Guide%2011.pdf; American Immigration Council, “Fact Sheet: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Provides Protections for Immigrant Women and Victims of Crime,” May 7, 2012, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/violence-against-women-act-vawa-provides-protections-immigrant-women-and-victims-crime
16U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Tool Kit for Prosecutors,” April 2011, https://www.ice.gov/doclib/about/offices/osltc/pdf/tool-kit-for-prosecutors.pdf
17Police Executive Research Forum, “Refugee Outreach and Engagement Programs for Police Agencies,” May 2017, http://www.policeforum.org/assets/refugeeoutreach.pdf
18Peter Finn, Kerry Murphy Healey, “Preventing Gang- and Drug-Related Witness Intimidation,” National Institute of Justice, November 1996, http://www.popcenter.org/problems/witness_intimidation/PDFs/Finn&Healey_1996.pdf
19Kelly Dedel, “Guide No. 42- Witness Intimidation,” Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, 2006, http://www.popcenter.org/problems/witness_intimidation/
20George L. Kelling, Catherine M. Coles, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, Free Press, 1998, https://www.manhattan-institute.org/fixingbrokenwindows
21Jen Kerns, “Sanctuary City Policies Are Ruining California – Here’s Why I Left,” The Hill, December 2, 2017, http://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/362940-sanctuary-city-policies-are-ruining-california-heres-why-i-left
22Bureau of Justice Statistics, “3 in 4 Former Prisoners in 30 States Arrested Within 5 Years of Release,” April 22, 2014, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rprts05p0510pr.cfm and, Matthew R. Durose, Alexia D. Cooper, PhD, Howard N. Snyder, PhD, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005-2010 – Update,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 22, 2014, https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4986
23Pete Hutchinson, “Dangerous ‘Collateral Consequences’ in Santa Clara County, California,” National Review, May 17, 2017, https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/05/immigrant-criminals-plea-bargains-lighter-sentences-deportation/
24John M. Morganelli, “Here’s Why ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Are Bad Public Policy,” Penn Live, July 14, 2015, http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2015/07/heres_why_sanctuary_cities_are.html
25Federation for American Immigration Reform, “Criminal Aliens,” May 2016, https://fairus.org/issue/societal-impact/criminal-aliens
26City and County of San Francisco, “City Performance Score Cards – County Jail Population,” http://sfgov.org/scorecards/public-safety/county-jail-population
27Public Policy Institute of California, “Just the Facts: Immigrants and Crime,” June 2008, http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/jtf/JTF_ImmigrantsCrimeJTF.pdf
28Bryan Griffith, Jessica M. Vaughan, “Maps: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States,” November 26, 2017, https://cis.org/Map-Sanctuary-Cities-Counties-and-States