The GOP Is Wrong About Sanctuary Cities

“We have to end this sanctuary cities crap FAST!” says Donald Trump, the billionaire seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

Trump, who rarely misses an opportunity to inveigh against both legal and illegal immigrants, has been joined in his condemnation of “sanctuary cities” by many of his GOP rivals.

Sanctuary cities—there are more than 200 across the United States—instruct local law enforcement officials to not investigate the immigration status of suspects or prisoners in their custody. The thinking is that such restraint will make victims and witnesses more likely to help police.

Again and again, Trump points to the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant from Mexico to prove his point that sanctuary cities are out of control, dangerous, and lawless. Starting in the late 1980s, elected officials in San Francisco and other cities changed police protocols in a bid to increase cooperation with local residents, many of whom might have been illegal.

Defenders of sanctuary cities say Trump and other critics are rank opportunists with no knowledge of stopping crime and protecting public safety.

“Over the past 25 years, the city and county of San Francisco has been very sensitive to the question of immigration and to the plight of undocumented peoples,” says Ross Mirkarimi, the San Francisco County Sheriff who oversees the jail system that released Steinle’s alleged killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. Prior to Steinle’s death from a ricoheting bullet, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had requested that the county turn Lopez-Sanchez over to them for deportation. But Mirkarimi says that under San Francisco’s 1989 “City and County of Refuge” law and its 2013 “Due Process for All” law, ICE needed to supply him with a court order to take custody. Had the agency done so, he would have “happily” complied with the request. In fact, he tells Reason TV that he does so on a regular basis.

In general, first-generation immigrants, whether in the country illegally or not, commit fewer violent and property crimes than either second-generation or native-born citizens. And there’s scant evidence that San Francisco is more dangerous than non-sanctuary cities of a similar size. In fact, its murder rate is about one-third that of non-sanctuary Indianapolis.

But this line of argument doesn’t hold for some anti-immigration activists, such as Don Rosenberg, who started writing about the danger of unlicensed drivers after an illegal immigrant ran over his son in a car and killed him.

“Even if it was true that illegal aliens committed less crime than citizens, every crime that they commit is an additional crime that didn’t [have to] happen,” says Rosenberg.

Cutting off the flow of new people and reducing the population via mass deportations might reduce the overall number of crimes, but the expense of doing so would be overwhelming, as would the incursions on the civil liberties of all Americans, who would need to get used to showing citizenship papers at routine traffic stops and submitting to a costly and invasive “E-verify” system every time they try to get a new job or hire a new employee.

“To just point the finger at sanctuary cities…because of this tragedy may feel good in venting,” says Mirkarimi of Kate Steinle’s death. “But it’s only going to unravel the good work that is being done to build the kind of trust that needs to be built with these communities in the first place.”

About 5 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Paul Detrick and Weissmueller. Music by Chris Zabriskie.

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