The murder of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle by illegal immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez has whipped up a frenzy not just against illegal immigrants but against so-called sanctuary cities. According to the nativist Center for Immigration Studies, around 275 jurisdictions—ranging from cities to counties to whole states such as North Dakota and Rhode Island—refuse to hand over ilegals in custody to immigration authorities. The primary argument in favor of sanctuary policies is that it encourages cooperation with police in solving crimes, which are mostly local issues.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has used the murder of Steinle to vault to the top of polls by promising to crack down on immigration, especially from Mexico, a country that is, he says, that is consciously exporting its worst people to the United States.
In his official announcement, he said
The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems. Thank you. It's true…When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
You've really got to love that last qualifier: "And some, I assume, are good people." Really going out on a limb there. Steinle's murder, says Trump, proves the need for an impenetrable border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Following The Donald's logic, it stands to reason that sanctuary cities would be crime-ridden cesspools. But they are not. In fact, reports Mother Jones, sanctuary cities have lower crime rates than comparable areas:
Writes Josh Harkinson,
Crime rates alone aren't enough to prove that sanctuary laws make us safer, but other evidence suggests the effect on public safety is real. A 2013 study by the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois-Chicago surveyed Latinos in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. It found that the increased involvement of local police in immigration enforcement in those cities had eroded trust in the legal system among both legal and illegal immigrants. Of those surveyed, 38 percent said they felt like they were under more suspicion and 45 percent said they were less likely to report a crime as a result—70 percent of the undocumented immigrants said so. The erosion of trust was felt most acutely in Phoenix, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has put strict immigration enforcement at the center of his agenda.
And keep in mind that native-born American men (who commit most crime, violent and otherwise) are five times more likely to be incarcerated than foreign-born men. And that even as the foreign-born percentage of the population has increased over the past 20 years, we've seen historic declines in all sorts of crimes. Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are a convenient scapegoat for all sorts of real and imagined social maladies. What they are not, by and large, are criminals who commit violent and property crimes.
Kate Steinle's murder is a tragedy, but the idea of using it to whip up nativist sentiment against a group of people who are by and large law abiding and desperate for a better life for them and their families is despicable. And to the extent that sanctuary cities and other policies that make all of us safer come under fire due to the inane ramblings of a joke candidate, well, there's just no language to register how sick that all is.
Back in 2006, when there was another spasm of anti-immigration fervor, Reason devoted an entire issue to "reality-based reform" of immigration policy. The short version: If you make it easier for people who want to come here to do so legally, everybody wins. The plain fact of the matter is that a country's—or a city's or state's—real problems surface when immigrants stop showing up. That's an iron-clad indicator that where you live is no longer attractive, growing, and vibrant.