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The Trump administration continues to attack sanctuary cities, conducting enforcement operations in communities that have refused to allow their local police to act as federal deportation agents. Recently, the administration has spent tax dollars on billboards targeting community members who have served time in the criminal legal system, advocating additional detention or deportation for these individuals.

Despite the administration’s determination to spread false discourse that divides, distracts, and undermines communities, a growing body of social science research shows that communities with immigrant populations are safe, vibrant, and full communities. Sociologists have long found that immigrants bring an inter-connectedness to communities that correlate to lower crime rates.

Simply put, more immigrants means safer communities—for everyone. In fact, many studies have found that crime actually decreases in cities with large immigrant populations. Social scientists even have a term for it: the “immigrant revitalization perspective.” 

Immigrants bring a vibrancy and inter-connectedness to communities that correlate to lower crime rates. 

  • A study for the American Sociological Review by Christopher Lyons, Maria Vélez, and Wayne Santoro found that immigrants “invigorate local economies and redevelop urban cores.” They write, “Scholars most often argue that rather than destabilize neighborhoods, immigrants invigorate local areas and fortify crime control processes.”
  • A Cato Institute working paper published on October 13, 2020, examined undocumented immigration and crime in Texas. The researchers found that counties with larger populations of undocumented immigrants had lower rates of violent crime
  • Another study by published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice looked at 40 years of data in big cities and found increasing rates of immigration to be “consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime throughout the time period.” 
  • A third study, by Michael T. Light and Ty Miller entitled “Does Undocumented Immigration Increase Violent Crime?,” looked at data from 1990-2014 for all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The study found that increases in immigration meant a decrease in violent crime. 

Many studies have found sanctuary policies enhance the correlation between immigration population density and lower crime rates. Policies aimed at increasing the deportation of immigrants – even those focused on deporting people who have been involved in the criminal legal system –  have no measurable impact on community safety. 

  • The Politics of Refuge: Sanctuary Cities, Crime, and Undocumented Immigration” examines the years 2000 through 2014 while comparing overall violent crime, property crime, and rape rates in U.S. cities both before and after the implementation of sanctuary policies. The findings show no statistical relationship between an increase in crime rates and implementation of sanctuary policies.
  • A 2020 study in the Justice Evaluation Journal explores the enactment of the “California Values Act” (SB 54), which prohibits the use of state and local resources to assist federal immigration enforcement. In California, researchers found no meaningful relationship between the law’s enactment and violent or propriety crime. 
  • Another study looked at data on deportations, immigration enforcement policies, crime, police performance, population, and economic outcomes from 2005 to 2015. When cities adopted aggressive immigrant control programs such as 287(g), which allows state and local police officers to act as immigration agents and initiate deportation proceedings, there was no change in the amount of crimes committed. In fact, researchers found that those policies might have come at the expense of their local economy.

    The study reports “areas that implemented the Secure Communities program most aggressively deported half a percent of their working age population or more. Crime outcomes in these areas were similar to those in areas that deported only a few people, or no one.” 

Detentions and deportations trigger outcomes such as housing and financial insecurity, jeopardizing community wellness. 

  • A paper entitled “Statement on the Effects of Deportation and Forced Separation on Immigrants, their Families, and Communities” found detention and deportation irreparably separate and destabilize families and communities. Even beyond the immediate damage of these actions, these practices trigger housing and financial insecurity, making all of our communities less secure. 

    The Society for Community Research and Action Division of the American Psychological Association has stated that immigration enforcement activity should be considered a “social determinant to health,” particularly because of how ICE activity prevents fearful immigrant communities from seeking needed medical care.  
  • Sociologists from the University of Arizona, the University of North Carolina, and the American Immigration published a robust review of the existing literature on the relationship between sanctuary policies and crime in 2017. They noted that policies marginalizing newcomers and breeding mistrust of local authorities erode the public safety policymakers claim to want to protect. 

Social science research debunks the justifications anti-immigrant policy makers use to support policies that encourage further deportation and detention of immigrants. Once a person convicted of a crime has served their time, they should be reunited with their families—not punished again with detention or deportation. In other words: policies of detention and deportation make our communities less safe; policies of welcoming and inclusion enhance everyone’s safety. 

Jordyn Rozensky is a communications analyst with NIJC. Heidi Altman is Director of Policy with NIJC.