September 21 2015

Earlier this summer, the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented Californian, caused an uproar, with some calling for an end to “sanctuary city” policies. Consideration of a bill in the U.S. Senate to do just that was postponed this week. While the urge to do something to prevent such deaths in the future is understandable, eliminating policies that promote trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities would be counterproductive.

Such action would make undocumented Californians and their family members less likely to cooperate with law enforcement around reporting crime and improving public safety.  Even worse, eliminating policies that build community trust would be an act that casts collective blame on an entire population for the action of one individual.  Such an approach is not the way to build cohesive communities or a healthier California.  Instead, we should carefully consider the facts in this case and what can be done differently in the future without eroding community trust.

A more cool-headed response should also consider the facts when it comes to immigrants and crime.  Contrary to what you might be led to believe by certain pundits, immigrants are less likely to be involved in crime.  Study after study has shown that, on average, immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans, and this is especially true in California, where incarceration rates for immigrants have been far lower than for native-born Americans.

When you add these findings to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s research that found undocumented Californians contribute $3.2 billion in taxes every year, it underscores how misplaced some policymakers’ priorities are. Undocumented Californians contribute so much to our state, but are excluded from so many of our public systems they are helping build.  Rather than stigmatizing them, we should be embracing them and recognizing their human rights – chief among them the right to healthcare and safety.

As conversations around undocumented Americans continue locally and nationally, we need to ensure our policies are guided by facts and research. They should celebrate the contributions undocumented Americans make to our country rather than criminalize them and force them back into the shadows. We need policies that build healthy, vibrant and trusting communities for all.