Moral Low Ground

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San Francisco’s Mayor Is Right — Sanctuary Cities Are Safer Cities

San Francisco City Hall protest against President Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and Mexico border wall; February 4, 2017. (Master Steve Rapport/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Trump administration’s policies and actions based on a portrayal of undocumented immigrants as a criminal menace to be rounded up and deported misses a very important fact — sanctuary cities are safer cities.

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threatened to withhold billions of dollars in federal law enforcement grants to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities by shielding undocumented immigrants from arrest and deportation. From the very first day of his presidential candidacy — when he appeared before an audience that included paid actors and announced he was running by calling Mexicans criminals and “rapists” — Trump has ceaselessly sought to portray undocumented immigrants fleeing endemic poverty and violence in their native countries as a menace to US public safety.

“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said at the White House on Monday, referring to sanctuary cities. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe — public safety as well as national security are at stake — and put them at risk of losing federal dollars.”

Sanctuary city leaders and proponents, as well as immigrant and other human rights rights advocates, have vowed to fight the administration’s threatened funding cuts. “Instead of making us safer, the Trump administration is spreading fear and promoting race-based scapegoating,” California state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement. “Their gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass-deportation is unconstitutional and will fail.”

In San Francisco, one of the nation’s first and most outspoken sanctuary cities, Mayor Ed Lee (D) tweeted, “#SF knows that #SanctuaryCities are safer, more productive, healthier places to live. We work for all our residents. #SFStandsAsOne.”

While Trump says, and many of his supporters believe, that sanctuary cities are hotbeds of crime, statistics say otherwise. Studies have proven that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the general population. University of California, San Diego political science professor Tom Wong analyzed FBI crime data and concluded counties designated “sanctuary” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) experience significantly lower rates of all categories of crimes, including murders, than non-sanctuary counties. According to the research, a typical sanctuary county in a large US metropolitan area suffered 654 fewer crimes per 100,000 residents than non-sanctuary counties, or about 15 percent less crime.

Furthermore, none of the 10 U.S cities with the highest violent crime rates are in states bordering on Mexico. On the other hand, even leading conservative voices have acknowledged that cities on or within a short drive from the US-Mexican border perennially rank among the safest cities in America. Among large cities, El Paso, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Austin consistently rank among the safest in the nation, with El Paso — located a literal stone’s over the border from violence-plagued Ciudad Juárez — ranked safest in America for four straight years during the 2010s.

Ironically, some of the nation’s safest cities, especially those in southern California, could become more dangerous places if Trump follows through on his promise to cut federal law enforcement funding from sanctuary cities. This is but one of the reasons leading law enforcement groups across the country reject Trump’s sanctuary crackdown. “Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities,” the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents the nation’s 63 largest metropolitan areas, said in a report, adding it “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

“Police chiefs all over the country are saying, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that, it’s actually going to hurt us,'” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presides over the nation’s largest sanctuary city, said. “The money he will take away will actually be from police departments trying to stop terror and trying to stop crime.”

Cities and even states aren’t waiting for the Trump administration to act. Last month, San Francisco became the first major city to sue the administration over its executive orders targeting sanctuary cities and ordering construction of the president’s much-vaunted southern border wall. California state lawmakers have also defiantly advanced legislation that would create a statewide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

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