Foon Rhee

The many ways Trump is wrong on sanctuary cities

Demonstrators protest Mayor Brand's opposition to sanctuary city status

Around 200 people gathered outside of City Hall early Friday afternoon to protest Mayor Lee Brand's statement that Fresno should not become a sanctuary city.
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Around 200 people gathered outside of City Hall early Friday afternoon to protest Mayor Lee Brand's statement that Fresno should not become a sanctuary city.

In his first-week executive order threatening to cut off federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” President Donald Trump claimed they “have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”

Not really.

In fact, new research suggests quite the opposite – that counties that shield undocumented immigrants are generally safer and more prosperous than similar counties that cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

In the study, the Center for American Progress used data obtained by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to compare 608 counties that do not hold undocumented immigrants without other charges and hand them over with 1,884 counties that work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Factoring in population and demographics, the analysis found that sanctuary counties had 35.5 fewer violent and property crimes per 10,000 people on average than similar non-sanctuary ones. Also, in sanctuary counties, median household income is an average of $4,353 a year higher, the poverty rate 2.3 percent less and the unemployment rate 1.1 percent lower.

The study’s authors say that “the data suggest that when local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy. This in turn brings benefits to individual households, communities, counties, and the economy as a whole.”

Other studies also have concluded that there’s no proof that sanctuary status has a statistically significant impact on crime.

That hasn’t stopped Trump from fearmongering about criminals roaming free in sanctuary cities. He has mentioned Kate Steinle’s 2015 slaying in San Francisco and the 2014 killings of Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr. and Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, and has used as stage props “Angel Moms,” whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants.

Now with the power of the presidency, he’s trying to force cooperation by taking away federal money, though the courts will decide whether he has that authority. The city attorney in San Francisco sued this week, among a growing number of legal challenges to the executive order.

While local and state officials across California and the nation vow to fight Trump, others already have backed down. Miami’s mayor quickly ordered his jails to comply with federal detention requests to shield $355 million in federal funds.

Trump is also trying to shame sanctuary cities; his order directs the Department of Homeland Security to begin releasing a weekly list of crimes committed by those released under sanctuary policies.

It’s true there have been some tragic and horrible cases, but, on the whole, the facts aren’t with Trump. Unfortunately, with this president it doesn’t really matter.

By the numbers

A new study looks at how “sanctuary” counties compare with non-sanctuary counties. Here are averages for large metro areas:



Crime rate (per 10,000)



Household income



Poverty rate



Jobless rate



Source: Center for American Progress and Immigrant Legal Resource Center