In an effort to crack down on “sanctuary” jurisdictions, the Trump administration pulled federal grant funding from cities and counties that do not cooperate with federal immigration efforts.
Chicago, a sanctuary city, announced Aug. 14 that it was suing the Trump administration over its new grant requirement. The next day, Sessions gave a speech in Miami praising Miami-Dade County and skewering Chicago over the two cities’ divergent approach to sanctuary policies. Sessions attributed the cities’ crime rates, specifically the number of shooting deaths over Fourth of July weekend, to their opposing stances on sanctuary policies. Is that accurate?
Sanctuary cities and crime
There’s no official definition of “sanctuary,” but it generally refers to rules restricting state and local governments from alerting federal authorities about people who may be in the country illegally. Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and state and local law enforcement can decide the extent to which they want to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can issue an “immigration detainer,” or a request to be notified when a noncitizen convicted of a crime is being released at state or local levels. ICE can then take custody of the offenders and figure out if they should be deported.
But some agencies decide not to alert ICE. Some fear that victims and potential witnesses may not come forward to report crimes if they are afraid of being reported to federal authorities for their immigration status. Others cite dwindling local and state law enforcement resources.
The data connecting sanctuary city policies to crime is quite thin. We previously awarded Three Pinocchios to Sessions and to Trump when they claimed that sanctuary cities “breed crime” or that “criminals take notice” when cities make it known that they have sanctuary policies.
There is limited research on the effect of sanctuary policies on crime. The research that does exist found no statistically significant impact of sanctuary policies on crime or showed that immigrant-friendly policing strategies reduced crime in some jurisdictions. Sanctuary jurisdictions release inmates after their criminal case is complete, and extensive research shows noncitizens are not more prone to criminality than U.S.-born citizens. Moreover, some sanctuary jurisdictions do cooperate with the federal government if they believe the inmate is a public safety threat.
Despite Sessions’s assertion, there’s no evidence that sanctuary policies had anything to do with crime trends in Chicago and Miami, including over the 2017 Fourth of July weekend.
From 3 p.m. Friday, June 30, to 6 a.m. Wednesday, July 5, more than 100 people were shot in Chicago, and at least 15 of the victims died. Nearly half of the shootings occurred in the last 12 hours of the long holiday, according to the Chicago Tribune’s analysis. Many of the shootings involved gang-related activity. And much of the violence in the last 12 hours of the holiday involved petty disputes in which arguments escalated into shootings, particularly among people who were drinking all day.
This year’s holiday spanned four full days. In 2013, the last time a Fourth of July holiday spanned four full days, at least 74 people were shot, and 12 of them died, according to the Tribune.
But illegal immigration is not a contributing factor, according to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson: “I have been a police officer for more than 30 years and the federal government’s plans will hamper community policing and undermine the work our men and women have done … Undocumented immigrants are not driving violence in Chicago, and that’s why I want our officers focused on community policing and not trying to be the immigration police.”
Homicides around the Fourth of July do not show obvious immigration links, and the communities with the highest homicide rates are not the ones that have the highest concentrations of immigrants or undocumented residents, according to Harold Pollack, an urban public health researcher at the University of Chicago.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley provided a statement noting that the number of homicides in Chicago has increased since its sanctuary city ordinances were enacted in 2013. But he did not provide data that showed causation.
Because Chicago fails to identify suspects in the majority of its killings, it is impossible to know exactly how many are committed by illegal immigrants, O’Malley said: “And Chicago’s unwillingness to share data regarding the citizenship of offenders in its custody further muddles the issue. Reversing sanctuary city policies is about more than just enforcing federal immigration law by detaining criminals here illegally — it’s about reestablishing a culture of law and order, where crimes are punished and people are deterred from committing them.”
The Miami-Dade County Police Department did not have data immediately available regarding Fourth of July shootings, but we did not find reports of shooting deaths out of the Miami area over the long holiday. There were gun deaths just before and just after the holiday.
Still, there’s no evidence that it had anything to do with the city’s decision to reverse its sanctuary policy in early 2017. In fact, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez explained to Sessions after the speech that the county has worked hard to decrease its crime rate using new tactics and neighborhood-based crime-prevention efforts, such as creating job-training programs for high-crime areas, said Michael Hernández, spokesman for the mayor.
“Mayor Giménez explained to the attorney general that we can’t attribute the drop in crime just to a policy change that took place earlier this year. We have to look at it holistically,” Hernández said. “We strongly believe that it is because we have the best law enforcement agency in the Southeastern United States — the Miami-Dade Police Department.”
Moreover, if sanctuary policies had a negative effect on violent crime, one would expect Miami-Dade to have experienced an uptick in crime after it instituted sanctuary policies in 2013. Yet as the graph shows below, that was not the case.
The Pinocchio Test
This is a complicated topic, but the answer is quite simple: There is no evidence to back up Sessions’s claim that Miami-Dade’s crime went down because it reversed its sanctuary policies, or that Chicago’s crime went up because of its sanctuary policies. He offers a specific example from the 2017 Fourth of July weekend: the number of shooting deaths in Chicago compared with the lack of shooting deaths in Miami-Dade. But this is a red herring — and a nonsense comparison — that doesn’t make a point one way or another about sanctuary policies or the crime trends in either city.
The violent crime trends in Chicago and Miami-Dade are unique to each jurisdiction. Sessions is playing Miami-Dade off Chicago like a parent playing the straight-A child off a problem child and using misleading data and a false argument along the way.
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