Sessions tries to bash ‘sanctuary cities’ but accidentally makes the case for them

It makes more sense for witnesses to want to come forward to report crime.

During a press conference in Miami, Florida on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered blistering remarks against immigrant-friendly policies in Chicago by conflating them with the city’s high murder rates.

But in the course of blasting so-called “sanctuary cities” — localities where local law enforcement officers refuse to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities — Sessions inadvertently made the case for why this particular immigration policy matters.

The Trump administration has often threatened to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities, claiming this will help keep cities safe by ensuring that dangerous criminals wind up in custody. Along these lines, Sessions suggested Chicago has soaring murder rates in part because witnesses are afraid to come forward when they see that criminals are out on the streets.

“Chicago has consistently had one of the lowest murder investigation clearance rates in the country. Only in one out of every four murders is a suspect even identified,” Sessions said. “Far from making the city safer, these policies likely make cooperation with law enforcement more difficult: if there are no real consequences for the criminal, no witness will risk their life to report the crime. They come forward, report a crime, the criminal is back in the street in front of their house the next day. This is something people don’t want to see.”

But there’s actually a lot of evidence that sanctuary cities foster greater public safety. Undocumented residents feel like they trust law enforcement officials enough to report crime when they do not have to worry that they will also get deported.

The more police cooperated in immigration enforcement, the more Latino immigrants feared the police, which exacerbated their mistrust of law enforcement authorities, according to a 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago report. And a 2009 Police Foundation report found that police who conducted joint patrol operations with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency in El Paso, Texas led to “a chilling effect on immigrant communities.”

It’s when witnesses see large presence from immigration enforcement officials that they are then hesitant to come forward.

Using recent immigration enforcement raids as an example, when immigration agents detained an undocumented domestic violence victim at a courthouse in Texas, advocates noticed a sharp drop in the number of immigrant survivors of violence who reached out for their help. In turn, fewer immigrant victims of crime have been willing to report their aggressors as part of a troubling nationwide trend seen in places like Los Angeles, Houston, even in Alabama.

It is also punitive to take money away from police departments in cities that have chosen to build trust with their residents. With $3.6 billion in federal funds at stake in Chicago, threats to take away funding from police departments that are already facing budget shortfalls could affect the backlog of DNA evidence tests collected from horrific crimes like sexual assaults and homicides. Chicago’s police department would also risk losing $9.6 million from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which promotes public safety efforts and crime reduction. Backlogs are already an issue in Chicago police, where police have failed to show up to more than 11,000 court dates since 2010 and are not punished for failing to report in court, which contributes to pretrial delay.

“Rather than acknowledge soaring murder counts or the heartbreaking stories told by victims’ families, this city, Chicago, has chosen to sue the federal government,” Sessions continued at the press event, accusing Chicago leaders of protecting criminals instead of its citizens.

Sessions is right that people do not want to see criminals let loose. But it is also wrong to assume that high murder rates came from crimes solely perpetrated by immigrants. Although the Trump administration often touts the myth that immigrants commit high levels of crime, studies bear out that immigrants in fact commit crimes at a lower incidence than native-born Americans. As the Washington Post pointed out in April the last time the Trump administration tried to conflate immigrants with high crime rates in Chicago — a narrative that seems to rest on stoking fear among white Americans that dangerous criminal immigrants are going to perpetrate crimes against them — “FBI data show that most killings in the United States are carried out by people in the same racial group as the victim.”