Eric Ruark's picture


  by  Eric Ruark

Daniel Costa, formerly a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, now works for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. At EPI, Costa was a responsible researcher and provided salient analysis of U.S. labor market conditions. He was a reliable critic of guest worker programs and acknowledged that immigration policy can be used to undermine the standing of American workers.

Working for Becerra, Costa has now turned his efforts towards undermining the rule of law and nullifying the Constitution in order to promote unfettered illegal immigration into the United States. This is too bad. Costa is a smart guy who, had he not become a mouthpiece for the radical California Democrats on immigration, could still be making positive contributions to the public debate. Unfortunately, ideology always conquers good sense, and so seems to be the case with Costa.

Last week, he tweeted a link promoting an op-ed in The Washington Post by Tom K. Wong, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Wong supposedly has done research showing sanctuary cities are safer, in part, because illegal aliens in those cities are more likely to cooperate with the police. Putting aside the fact, and it is a fact, that the police do not inquire about the legal status of cooperating witnesses, defenders of sanctuary policies routinely make the argument that jurisdictions that encourage illegal immigration are safer than places that do not because sanctuary policies make it more likely that illegal aliens will report criminal activity.

Research on the effect of illegal immigration on local crime rates is inconclusive. Sanctuary polices, which impede or prohibit the transmission of immigration status to federal authorities, and can lead to prosecutors refusing to charge illegal aliens with non-violent crimes, make the collection of reliable information even more difficult. The available data simply do not allow for a definitive statement on the correlation between sanctuary polices and crimes rates. Anyone making such a claim either does not understand how to interpret the pertinent data or is peddling nonsense. In Wong’s case, it appears to be both.

The “research” report that Wong alludes to does not appear to be publicly available, so we have to rely on what he wrote in The Washington Post. He says that he asked a series of questions “in a representative survey of undocumented Mexican nationals in San Diego County.” Of 594 respondents, half were asked these questions about sanctuary cities:

If the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said they WILL NOT WORK WITH ICE on deportation raids, would you be more or less likely to…Report a crime you witnessed to the police/Report a crime you were a victim of to the police?

The other half were asked these questions:

If the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department WERE WORKING TOGETHER WITH ICE on deportation raids, would you be more or less likely to … Report a crime you witnessed to the police/Report a crime you were a victim of to the police?

Here are some of the obvious problems with Wong’s approach.

  1. The question is not only leading, it bears no relation to how immigration law enforcement actually works, or what sanctuary policies are intended to do. The question is unclear about what it means for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to be “working together with ICE,” and “deportation raid” is a term invented by Wong in order to elicit a particular response. In actuality, ICE takes targeted actions to apprehend known criminal aliens who are put through removal proceedings before an immigration judge, the result of which may be their removal from the Unites States. Cooperation from local law enforcement helps ICE to identify and locate dangerous criminal aliens and helps to protect ICE agents and the general public. Considering that San Diego County does not participate in the 287(g) program, and has adopted sanctuary policies, its officers do not “work with” ICE, and are not required to under federal law. What does conflict with federal law is the practice of ignoring immigration detainers for individuals ICE wishes to pick up in local jails. San Diego County has failed to honor ICE retainers, routinely releasing potentially dangerous criminal aliens back into the local community.

  2. Any measure of sanctuary policies must take into account the overall effect they have on a community. Of course, illegal aliens are going to be apprehensive about interactions with law enforcement officials because illegal aliens, no matter the city or state in which they reside, are in the United States in violation of federal law. Most have also likely committed other crimes besides immigration violations, most commonly identify theft/fraud. Defenders of sanctuary policies generally ignore non-violent crimes and argue that illegal aliens are more likely report to violent crimes in places where sanctuary policies are in place. This approach takes attention away from the commission of violent crimes and places it on the reporting of these crimes. Does illegal immigration increase the rate of violent crimes? Do sanctuary policies that shield non-violent illegal aliens also attract violent criminal aliens? Would violent crimes rates be higher if sanctuary polices were not in place in certain localities? Are non-violent crimes routinely committed by illegal aliens inconsequential? These are serious questions. Wong does not address any of them in a serious way.

  3. ICE targets criminal aliens, prioritizing the apprehension of individuals who have committed violent acts and represent a danger to the community. ICE does not target non-violent criminal aliens unless an alien has ignored an order(s) of removal or has an outstanding warrant. Most illegal aliens come the attention of ICE after being arrested by local law enforcement and identified through Secure Communities, not because they are cooperating as witnesses with local law enforcement. Sanctuary policies are a threat to the lawful order and hence to public safety because they encourage the presence of illegal aliens, some of whom are a grave threat to the public. Even if most illegal aliens are not violent criminals, all are still lawbreakers. If despite this lawbreaking most illegal aliens may be “otherwise good people,” being an otherwise good person is not grounds for admission into the United States.

  4. Wong says his sample is a “representative survey of undocumented Mexican nationals in San Diego County” but it is not even that, as he later reveals. He only includes those Mexican nationals in San Diego County "who received consular services unique to those living in the United States without authorization.” This is a small and unrepresentative subset and tells us almost nothing about sanctuary policies one way or another. This survey does not even capture the attitudes of the illegal alien population in San Diego County. It tells us nothing about the views the U.S. illegal alien population as a whole, and it does not account for different attitudes among different nationalities, say illegal aliens from Ireland living in Boston, or illegal aliens from El Salvador living in Montgomery County, Maryland. These survey responses may be of interest to a Mexican Consulate worker in San Diego County, but that’s about it.

A good deal of evidence has been presented to support the proposition that sanctuary policies make communities safer. The problem is the evidence presented has not been compelling. The evidence Wong cites in support of this proposition is a piece he wrote for the political advocacy group Center for America Progress, and the work of two researchers who themselves point out the “uncertainty underlying our analyses.” There is indeed a great deal of uncertainty regarding how local crime data is collected and analyzed, made all the more uncertain when the question of public safety become politicized. Martin O’Malley famously cooked the books on crime data when he was mayor of Baltimore in order to pretend that his policies, including sanctuary for illegal aliens, were responsible for making the city safer.

There is a basic, straightforward question that gets to the heart of the matter without a resort to cherry-picked data or politically biased research findings. “Would Baltimore, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or San Diego be safer if the police didn’t shield criminal aliens, including violent gang members, from federal immigration authorities?”

It is not the aim of immigration law to make illegal aliens comfortable in their law-breaking, but everyone who is the victim of a crime should have recourse to justice, and that’s the way our policing system is designed to work. Cops catch robbers, that what they do. Their concern is the reliability of the information provided to them by witnesses, and how that information can be used to prove a criminal guilty of a crime. From a practical standpoint, why would a police officer want to deport a witness who could help close a case?

Wong’s body of work makes it very clear where he stands on immigration. That’s fine, but he also makes clear that his research is designed to fit within an existing ideology. If Wong, and Costa, were truly concerned about public safety, they would be honest about the parameters of the debate and would admit that police are not going to arrest illegal aliens for reporting a crime (at least not for reporting the criminal activity of someone else). Producing and publicizing bad faith arguments may seem honorable to those who believe they are acting for a noble cause, but in this case it only serves to defend policies that undermine the rule of law and threaten public safety.

ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA

Updated: Mon, May 14th 2018 @ 11:35am EDT

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