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Open Thread: Do Sanctuary Cities Make America 'Safer'?

In July, the tragic death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco at the hands of an illegal alien brought forward a discussion about sanctuary cities in Washington. One of the aims of this sanctuary city policy was to allow illegal aliens to come forward and report crimes without fear of deportation.  Yet, it seems to be turning into a haven where enforcement of federal immigration laws is nonexistent. The Steinle case makes that explicitly clear. The illegal immigrant who shot Steinle, Francisco Sanchez, had been deported five times, but kept coming to San Francisco because he knew it was a sanctuary city.  Therefore, no law enforcement action would be taken to find him. In the aftermath of the Kate Steinle’s death, you had her father testify; saying the last words her daughter said to him was “help me, Dad.” You also had testimonies from other families whose loved ones were taken from them by illegal aliens.


Now, Leah reports that on federal law enforcement failed to detain Victor Aureliano Hernandez Ramirez, who was previously incarcerated on a battery charge against a woman. In the past 15 months, Ramirez has avoided capture. On July 24, he, along with accomplice Jose Fernando Villagomez, broke into the home of 64-year old Marilyn Pharis, where they raped and beat her. A hammer was used during the assault, and Pharis died of her injuries eight days later.

There are over 200 sanctuary cities in the United States. Do they make us safer? Raul A. Reyes, an attorney, argued for Inside Sources that sanctuary cities make us safer, and that the term is often misunderstood:

What is a sanctuary city? The most accurate definition of a sanctuary city is a city that has decided to leave immigration enforcement to the federal government, so that their own police force can concentrate on fighting crime. That’s hardly a radical idea; it is a principle that the Supreme Court affirmed in Arizona v. U.S. (2012), which found that only the federal government had authority over immigration enforcement.

There are several hundred sanctuary cities across the country, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Although the policies of sanctuary cities vary from place to place, it might surprise people to know that sanctuary cities do not provide a haven for undocumented immigrants. Federal immigration laws are enforced in sanctuary cities just as in non-sanctuary cities. In a sanctuary city, undocumented immigrants can still be rounded up and deported by the government. Local officials in sanctuary cities can still report undocumented immigrants to the government.


State and local police are not trained in immigration law and procedures. Holding undocumented immigrants in local jails proved to be very expensive for cities, and led to additional liability and legal issues. Local police forces found that they didn’t have enough time to do their main job, protecting their communities from crime, because they were chasing after people for immigration violations, which are civil infractions.

Worst of all, when local police were turned into immigration agents, it had a detrimental effect on community relations. A 2013 study by the University of Illinois-Chicago found that increased (local) police involvement in immigration enforcement eroded trust of law enforcement among both undocumented and legal immigrants.


Sanctuary cities are doing something right. Crime in San Francisco, for example, is lower than in several other non-sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities make sense because they allow undocumented immigrants to report crime and volunteer as witnesses with local police, which makes everyone safer. Consider that a long list of cities, mayors, crime victims and law enforcement groups have spoken out against a proposal by House Republicans to withhold federal monies from sanctuary cities.

Steinle’s death was a horrific crime and her killer must be brought to justice. But we shouldn’t let an emotional response to this crime blind us to the realities of the case.


So instead of scapegoating sanctuary cities, lawmakers should be taking steps to ensure better communication between federal and local law enforcement. Besides, we don’t need more immigration enforcement (our government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined); we need smarter and better immigration enforcement.


At the same time, the USA Today editorial board called the sanctuary city policy something that “violates common sense.”  They also said included the portion about illegals working with local law enforcement without fear of deportation, which Mr. Reyes seems to have left out.  

 As Leah noted, Obama’s executive actions on immigration–shifting focus to illegals with violent histories and national security risks–has made enforcement difficult since even illegals who “committed misdemeanors, even violent acts, were thus considered low priority.”

What say you?

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