White House repeats claim that sanctuary cities breed crime, data continues to say otherwise

Defending its plan to punish jurisdictions that shelter undocumented immigrants, the White House implied they don’t deserve federal funding because they take crime too lightly, a stance not supported by statistics.

During Friday’s briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer took a question from Derrick Blakley of CBS 2 Chicago via Skype. Blakley asked about President Trump’s executive orders withholding grants from localities maintaining “sanctuary” status for undocumented immigrants.

“Chicago receives about $12 million a year in law enforcement assistance from the federal government,” said Blakley. “Would President Trump cut off those funds due to Chicago’s sanctuary city status even though it would greatly hamper Chicago police in their fight against street violence, something the president has repeatedly said troubles him deeply?”

“I think it’s interesting you talk about street violence and then we cut off the funding for sanctuary cities,” replied Spicer. “I think it would be interesting to want to send more money to a city that is allowing people to come into the country who are breaking the law, who are in many cases committing crimes, member of gangs. You can’t be a sanctuary city and at the same time seem to pretend or express concern about law enforcement and ask for more money when probably a number of funds you’re using in the first place are going to law enforcement to handle the situation that you created for yourself.”

“Does that mean the president is more concerned about deporting illegal immigrants than he is about putting shooters and killers in jail?” Blakley persisted.

“No,” said Spicer, “because if a shooter or killer is here illegally and is in this country, then I think, respectfully, that you’re delinking the two issues. If you have people who are in this country illegally, who are part of the gang and are a threat to public safety or are committing a crime, then funding that activity and allowing that to fester is in itself a problem. So by not rooting that out in the first place is allowing the problem to continue and not exactly showing an attempt to solve it in the first place.”

There isn’t much evidence to back up Spicer’s claim that sanctuary cities are more dangerous because they are only pretending to express concern about law enforcement, but there’s plenty to refute him. Analysis of counties that have been designated with “sanctuary” status show lower crimes rates, including homicide rates. According to one study of the 2010 census, immigrants have a lower incarceration rate than native-born Americans. A 2013 study found that increased levels of immigration to neighborhoods generally lower the crime rates there.

“[We do] not conduct immigration enforcement and this will not change,” the Chicago Police Department said in a statement to Chicago magazine last week. “CPD investigates crime, not immigration. CPD officers will never ask about the immigration or naturalization status of residents.”

Spicer’s comments echo those of Trump recently.

“Sanctuary cities, as you know, I’m very much opposed to sanctuary cities,” said Trump in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly. “They breed crime. There’s a lot of problems.”

“You look at Chicago, and you look at other places,” said Trump at a gathering of police chiefs and sheriffs. “So many of the problems are caused by gang members, many of whom are not even legally in our country.”

“I don’t know anyone in Chicago who believes that,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told CBS 2 Chicago in response to the president’s claim. “Whether we are talking about African-American or Latino neighborhoods, we are not talking about illegal immigrants. We are talking about our native-born sons and daughters.”

From CBS 2 Chicago:

Officials in Chicago haven’t linked the violence to an influx of illegal immigrants. Rather, they say, prison sentences for gun crimes are too lenient, allowing repeat offenders with gang ties out on the street to commit more violence.

The violence in Chicago was a recurring campaign pitch for Trump, who used the homicide rates there as one reason African-Americans should vote for him. However, as Yahoo News’ Holly Bailey reported last year, Trump the candidate mentioned the violence everywhere on the trail except Chicago and avoided the Southside neighborhoods with the highest rate of violent crime when visiting the city.

Many law enforcement agencies do not comply with detainee requests from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency because some federal courts have ruled them to be illegal unless there is a separate court order.

Caitlin Dickson contributed to the reporting of this story.

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