As the Trump administration steps up its attacks on cities and states that provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants, claiming it endangers public safety, a forthcoming California study has determined that sanctuary policies have no impact on crime rates.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine said their study showed that the effect of the state’s enactment of SB54, a law limiting local government cooperation with federal immigration agents, was “null,” at least in the short-term: It neither lowered nor increased crimes of violence or crimes against property in the year since the law took effect in 2018.
“We find no relationship between SB54’s enactment and violent crime in California,” the study said, adding, “Our results show null effects for both violent and property crime.”
The authors, Charis E. Kubrin, professor of criminology at UCI, and Bradley J. Bartos, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona, said their research represented the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of California’s legislation—which many critics claimed would lead to a rise in crime.
Under the law, which applied to all local jurisdictions in California, police and sheriffs are prohibited from asking about the immigration status of anyone they apprehend, and cannot share any personal information with the U.S. Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Moreover, a suspect cannot be held for additional time just in order to allow immigration agents to interview them or pick them up.
The researchers arrived at their conclusions by comparing California’s recorded crime rates in the 12 months following the law’s enactment to a model they created which showed what the state’s crime picture would look like if the sanctuary bill had not been passed. They based the model, which they called “synthetic California,” using data collected from a combination of states between 1970 and 2017 whose crime trends matched California.
They acknowledged that their study model was limited by the short time span of one year, and did not take into account the experiences of local communities which may have experienced crime increases.
But they also argued that their findings confirmed a large body of previous research showing that immigrants—and more particularly the undocumented—were responsible overall for fewer crimes than the general population.,
But that is unlikely to sway anti-immigration advocates who have seized on anecdotal accounts of crimes by immigrants—either legal or undocumented—who had been convicted or arrested for earlier crimes but were released from custody before ICE agents could intervene.
The Trump administration argues that the primary threat comes from such individuals, and says its policies are aimed at ensuring they don’t slip through the net of law enforcement once again.
For their part, supporters of SB54 and similar sanctuary laws say the ICE crackdown has a chilling effect on all immigrants and makes them less likely to cooperate with law enforcement, which would in turn have devastating effects on the safety of many communities.
Last month, the feds escalated their battle with lawsuits against New Jersey, which has a similar statewide sanctuary law to California; and King County, Wa., which has prevented the use of its airport for returning deportees.
The Department of Homeland Security also suspended Global Entry and other trusted-traveler programs for New York residents as a way of applying pressure on the state to reverse its sanctuary policies.
Attorney General William Barr said such local policies violate a federal law prohibiting Americans from aiding unauthorized immigrants or shielding them from immigration authorities.
“So-called progressive politicians are jeopardizing the public’s safety by putting the interests of criminal aliens before those of law-abiding citizens,” Barr said.
The authors of the California study said their findings should add some clarity to the debate over sanctuary legislation.
‘Our [research], reinforced by findings from the handful of previous studies on the sanctuary-crime nexus, suggest that little is to be gained in terms of crime control by punishing sanctuary jurisdictions or, more broadly, by enacting harsh, restrictive, and exclusionary policies aimed at immigrants and immigration,” they wrote.
The study is currently being revised for publication in the Justice Evaluation Journal, but the authors have made available, in the interim, a Fact Sheet setting out their findings. Interested readers are also welcome to contact the authors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org