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Debunking the Myth of "Sanctuary Cities"

By Lynn Tramonte

There is much confusion about the term “sanctuary city.”  The term is often used derisively by immigration opponents to blast what are best described as community policing policies.  Critics claim that these cities and states provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants, but research shows that the opposite is true.  In fact, community policing policies are about providing public safety services, not sanctuary, to both immigrant residents and the entire community.  Crime experts, including hundreds of local police officers, have found that cities with community policing policies continue to work closely with DHS and have built bridges to immigrant communities that have improved their ability to fight crime and protect the entire community.

Historically, the federal government has enforced civil immigration law, and state and local police have focused on enforcing criminal law.  However, propelled by increased frustration with the nation’s broken immigration system and by growing anti-immigrant sentiment, politicians’ demands for state and local police to take on an increased role in immigration enforcement have grown exponentially.  This culminated in the passage of Arizona’s notorious SB1070 law in 2010, which would turn Arizona state and local police officers into deportation agents. 

Laws like SB1070 are not only unnecessary, they are dangerous.  State and local police already have the authority to arrest anyone suspected of criminal activity, including non-citizens, and police regularly work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify foreign-born criminals, detain them, and transport them for eventual deportation.  However, most police do not arrest immigrants solely for being undocumented.  Despite the media attention Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona has garnered for treating undocumented immigrants like criminals, most state and local police do not want to be put in the position of identifying non-criminal immigrants for deportation because they believe doing so would make it more difficult for them to earn the trust of immigrant residents and protect the entire community from criminals.  In fact, their concerns about the impact of laws like Arizona’s SB1070 have been a key reason that similar measures have failed to advance in states like Colorado and South Dakota.   

More than 70 cities and states across the country have adopted policies that prevent police agencies from asking community residents who have not been arrested to prove their legal immigration status. These policies do allow state and local police to report foreign-born criminals to DHS.  Based on the tenets of community policing, these policies make it safe for immigrant crime victims and witnesses to report criminals to the police and help put them behind bars. Critics claim that these cities and states provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants, but research shows that the opposite is true.  Crime experts, including hundreds of local police officers, have found that cities with community policing policies do work closely with DHS when they have actual criminals in custody.  Moreover, they have built important bridges to immigrant communities that enhance their ability to fight crime and protect all residents.

Published On: Tue, Apr 26, 2011 | Download File