Feds to Track Migrant Criminal Histories in Fight Against Sanctuary Cities

United States Attorney for the District of Arizona Michael Bailey speaking at a press conference on February 11, alongside Homeland Security Investigations' Scott Brown and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Albert Carter.EXPAND
United States Attorney for the District of Arizona Michael Bailey speaking at a press conference on February 11, alongside Homeland Security Investigations' Scott Brown and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Albert Carter.
Hannah Critchfield
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The Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office has begun tracking criminal histories of immigrants charged with illegal re-entry into the United States, state and federal officials announced at a press conference on Tuesday.

Information about those immigrants, if they have prior convictions for “some other crime other than an immigration crime,” will be made publicly available online monthly.

The announcement of data collection by the federal prosecutor's office in Arizona was designed to send a message.

It follows Attorney General William Barr's announced crackdown on sanctuary cities earlier this week. Arizona has no sanctuary cities of its own. But Michael Bailey, Arizona U.S. Attorney, said at the press conference the conviction data was being used to dissuade Arizonans from pursuing sanctuary city legislation.

Bailey, alongside ICE Field Operations Director Albert Carter and Scott Brown, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Arizona, discussed what he called the "Arizona implications" of the Department of Justice's recent actions against sanctuary cities.

“One of the common arguments that often occurs in a sanctuary city setting is the question of, are these folks dangerous or not dangerous?” Bailey said. “So, I wanted to give you some numbers that we’ve recently started compiling, just to give you a sense of what we’re doing and the criminal histories of the immigrants we’re processing.”

Taking Sides on Sanctuary Cities

On Monday, the Justice Department said it would escalate its fight against “sanctuary jurisdictions” across the nation, filing suits against New Jersey and a Washington county over laws the Trump administration considers over-friendly to who are people in the country illegally.

Barr, in outlining the lawsuits during a speech to a sheriffs' group on Monday, said, “Unfortunately, in various jurisdictions, so-called ‘progressive’ politicians are jeopardizing the public’s safety by putting the interests of criminal aliens before those of law-abiding citizens."

Sanctuary city is the term for a jurisdiction that limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts through the passage of local policies. Rhetoric from opponents of sanctuary policies say they damage public safety by preventing deportations of people who may go on to commit violent crime.

Bailey ceded that there would be no changes to ICE's enforcement in Arizona following Barr's crackdown, nor was the state in danger of facing federal lawsuits. But he hammered home the idea that sanctuary cities were a bad idea.

“This is an issue that will arise again and again in Arizona, and Tucson most recently discussed the issue,” Bailey said, referencing Tucson's sanctuary city vote last year, which failed by about 70-30. "In light of the [DOJ's] recent action, we thought it would be an appropriate time to make it clear that we need to continue on the path we’re on.”

Bailey noted that the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, which comprises a 262-mile strip along the Arizona border from New Mexico to the Yuma County line, is getting a “very high volume” of border crossings of undocumented immigrants. He cited this as evidence of the need for partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE.

The new data being compiled tracks only a subset of the total population of apprehended border-crossers.

The New Numbers

The U.S. Attorney's Office began tracking this data for the first time last month.

In January 2020, according to its inaugural Immigration and Border Report, 336 of the 1,074 men and women charged with illegal re-entry into the United States in Arizona previously had been convicted of a non-immigration offense within the country.

Sixty-seven of these individuals had violent crime convictions, as Bailey noted during the press conference, including two homicide convictions.

The vast majority, around two-thirds, were DUI or drug-related convictions.

Bailey continued, “I think the value of seeing these numbers is the lesson that if we don’t have the cooperation of state and local authorities, some large number of illegal aliens with criminal history are going to be walking free on the streets of our community. And many times, [they're] very dangerous criminals walking free on the streets of our community.”

Increased Rates of Violence?

Loren Collingwood, professor of political science at University of California-Riverside, is one of the leading researchers on sanctuary cities in the United States. Using the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting data, he and his colleagues compared crime in sanctuary cities to similarly situated non-sanctuary cities from 2001 to 2014.

“We found there was no significantly significant relationship between sanctuary status and whether the city had higher or lower crime rates,” Collingwood told Phoenix New Times. “That’s true for violent crime, rape crime, and property crime.”

But despite this, Collingwood said the myth around sanctuary cities leading to higher crime rates is persistent.

“We also demonstrate [in our research] that even me having to debunk this issue or talk about it, and it being driven by the media, tends to then associate sanctuary cities with crime in the broader white public’s mind, specifically among conservative Republicans,” Collingwood said. “Even though all of the available evidence, from my study and others, points to the same direction that there’s essentially no relationship, and that if anything the relationship is negative. But it doesn’t really matter from a political elite’s perspective. It’s a talking point, and the press is covering it.”

Bailey said there is no current plan for analyzing the significance of the Arizona data at year’s end, but that it’s “certainly something to think about.”

“We can debate over what the numbers mean, but at least we’ll know what they are,” said Bailey.

The monthly data will be available to the public online at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona website.

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