A style of political argument pioneered by Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia has now spread to New Jersey, where Lieutenant Government Kim Guadagno has debuted an ad attempting to link her opponent to a murderer named Jose Carranza who came to the United States illegally from Peru before murdering three people in Newark.
Like Gillespie’s ads, Guadagno’s campaign is offering a kind of flimsy guilt-by-association argument. She dwells first on the grisly details of the immigrant’s criminality, and then invokes her opponents’ name a bunch of times. The policy linkage, such as there is, is the idea that “Phil Murphy’s sanctuary state plan is too dangerous for New Jersey.”
The ad does not in any way attempt to argue that any kind of sanctuary city policy is responsible for Carranza’s crimes, any more than Gillespie’s ads in Virginia offer any policy argument about sanctuary cities and MS-13. It’s just a trick of juxtaposition in the service of demagoguery. But it’s also an argument that’s been deployed at the highest level of the American government, even though the underlying assertion that sanctuary policies lead to higher crime is completely false.
Jeff Sessions’ favorite study debunks his conclusion
One thing that is unquestionably true is that undocumented immigrants are people, some people are criminals, and with about 11 million undocumented people living in the United States more than zero of them are criminals. If you could wave a magic wand and teleport every undocumented immigrant current residing in the United States to somewhere else, the raw quantity of murders committed in the United States would decline.
By the same token, if you made the 11 million people who live in Ohio all disappear the number of murders committed in the United States would also decline.
None of this, however, has anything to do with “sanctuary” policies which bar local law enforcement agencies from reporting on immigration status. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking to bolster the claim that a crackdown on sanctuary cities would cut crime, said in a July 12 speech in Las Vegas that “when cities like Philadelphia, Boston, or San Francisco advertise that they have these policies, the criminals take notice. According to a recent study from the University of California Riverside, cities with these policies have more violent crime on average than those that don’t.”
This kind of raw correlation, however, doesn’t tell us anything. The kind of liberal cities that are more likely to adopt sanctuary policies probably have more yoga studios than those that don’t. But it would be ridiculous to argue that sanctuary cities cause yoga or that yoga causes illegal immigration.
The actual conclusion of the study in question, “The Politics of Refuge: Sanctuary Cities, Crime, and Undocumented Immigration” was that “sanctuary policies have no effect on crime rates.”
Outside the narrow context of Republican Party demagoguery, one might actually take this to be a bad conclusion for sanctuary policies. One key justification for such policies, after all, is that by making immigrant communities more inclined to cooperate with police investigators they would help reduce crime. Statistically, that does not seem to have happened. But crime didn’t rise either. It’s simply a question of how friendly a jurisdiction wants to be toward immigration.
Guadagno’s specific argument is even worse
As applied to the particulars of the Carranza case, however, Guadagno’s argument about sanctuary cities is particularly egregious. The “Politics of Refuge” study includes this chart, showing that crime went up in some cities after they adopted sanctuary rules and down in others with no real trend.
Note that Newark, the city where Carranza committed his crime, is one of the cities that saw the biggest fall in violent crime after adopting sanctuary city rules.
Which is to say that not only is there no reason to believe that sanctuary city laws increase crime in general, in the particular case of Newark there is no crime increase at all to explain. In general, immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. And though immigrants’ children commit crimes at higher rates than immigrants themselves, they still offend less frequently than longer-settled cohorts.
Crime is a real policy issue, in other words, as is immigration. But they have very little to do with one another beyond the brute fact that more people leads to more aggregate crime even if crime rates fall. That means the opportunity to cherry pick an immigrant crime here or there will always exist, and since this strategy seemed to be paying dividends in the blue-ish state of Virginia we now see it spreading to the solid blue state of New Jersey. If it ends up paying off in November, we can expect to see a lot more of it in 2018.