Study undercuts sanctuary cities; fear of deportation doesn’t stop reporting of crimes

Immigrants report crimes at the same rate as native-born Americans, according to a report that undercuts sanctuary cities’ claims that cooperating with immigration authorities creates a “chilling effect,” making migrants less likely to work with local police on their investigations.

The Center for Immigration Studies used crime victimization data to examine how often Hispanics and non-Hispanics reported crimes and, more precisely for the immigration context, how often citizens and noncitizens reported crimes.

The analysts said, if anything, they found higher reporting among immigrants than native-born Americans. Hispanic immigrants, both citizens and noncitizens, reported 65% of serious violent crimes from 2017 to 2019 compared with 49% of native-born Americans.

The data showed fear of police or deportation wasn’t a significant hindrance. About 1% of immigrant victims said they feared harassment by authorities or were advised not to tell police.

It also didn’t matter whether the immigrants lived in the types of communities most likely to be sanctuaries, the CIS study said. Crime reporting was similar no matter what.

“Immigrants do not generally shy away from reporting crimes — all types of crimes, all over the country — more than anyone else,” said Jessica Vaughan, the study’s lead author. “Not only that, of those that don’t report crimes, they almost never say it was because they feared trouble from the police or implied that they feared deportation.”

The study strikes at the heart of the most compelling defense of sanctuary policies, which shield illegal immigrants from being reported or turned over to federal deportation authorities.

Although some immigrant rights activists defend sanctuary policies to protect illegal immigrants, most sanctuary cities justify their rules as public safety measures. They say immigrants are less likely to report crimes if cities work with federal authorities.

In early 2017, Los Angeles showed a significant drop in Hispanic crime reporting of sexual assaults and domestic violence over the first two months of the Trump administration. City officials said the Hispanics were afraid of deportation.

The city’s police chief and mayor highlighted the numbers at a press conference.

“While there is no direct evidence that the decline is related to concerns within the Hispanic community regarding immigration, the department believes deportation fears may be preventing Hispanic members of the community from reporting when they are victimized,” the Los Angeles Police Department said.

The Washington Times looked at a set of data from Los Angeles stretching beyond the first two months and found the city’s claims weren’t borne out.

Indeed, Hispanic crime reporting for intimate partner aggravated assaults was almost the same share of total reports from 2016, under President Obama, to 2017, under President Trump, while rape reporting rose slightly.

California enacted a series of sanctuary policies that took effect statewide in 2018. Under Los Angeles’ theory, that should have shown a spike in Hispanic reports of crimes. Reports of rape and domestic partner simple assaults did rise slightly, but the number of aggravated assault reports fell.

The crime victimization data CIS used for the analysis is from a Census Bureau survey conducted on behalf of the Justice Department. Beginning in 2017, the survey included questions about citizenship and foreign birth, giving a new window into trends among immigrants.

Among the findings were that 62% of serious crimes against immigrants — both legal and illegal — were reported to police, compared with 53% for the native-born population. For violent crimes, immigrants reported 61%, compared with 49% for the native-born.

The CIS analysis used Hispanic noncitizens as a rough proxy for illegal immigrants and found no major difference in reporting compared with native-born Americans.

“We find no evidence in the NCVS data to support the ‘chilling effect’ theory that immigrants are more reluctant to report crimes, generally, or in the parts of the country where local authorities routinely cooperate with ICE, such as the South,” the authors concluded.

The findings were consistent for female victims, younger immigrants, and in small and large communities.

The CIS analysis contradicts other studies, such as a paper published in January in the American Sociological Review that looked at data from 1980 to 2004 and concluded that cooperating with federal authorities did suppress crime reporting.

“We find that Latinos are more likely to report violent crime victimization to law enforcement after sanctuary policies have been adopted within their metropolitan areas of residence,” that study concluded.

Another study released in January used the same victimization data as CIS and found that Hispanic crime reporting seemed to drop in 2017, when the Trump administration took over.

CIS said the data set isn’t solid enough to make judgments based on a year-to-year change, and the rise and fall of reporting shows no clear pattern over a broader time frame. Besides, CIS said, Hispanics were almost always more likely to report crimes than non-Hispanics in 2017.

The Washington Times has reached out to the authors of those studies.

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