Wrong interpretation: Researcher says his data on crime and immigration misused

Researchers concluded after studying crime data that evidence did not show "sanctuary cities" have more crime than cities that cooperate with federal immigration officers. Yet a right-wing website contends the results "clearly and unambigiously" show the opposite.

A University of California – Riverside political scientist told Injustice Watch this week that research he co-authored is being misused to contend that cities that fail to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement experience more crime than cities that cooperate.

Loren Collingwood, an assistant professor of political science, said that the study conducted jointly by UC – Riverside along with Hillside College found no statistically significant effect on violent crime rates by city policies across the country limiting local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Yet this week, the website WND, which purports to be “the digital pioneer in website news,” used that same data to report: “Sanctuary cities experience more violent and property crime than non-sanctuary cities of similar demographics and population levels, a recent study, largely overlooked by the so-called ‘mainstream media,’ clearly and unambiguously reveals.”

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Collingwood said in a telephone interview that no such conclusion is possible. The team’s research first received attention last October, when the researchers co-authored an article on their work for The Washington Post. The full study is to be officially published in the Urban Affairs Review.

At issue are jurisdictions that have adopted policies limiting their role in helping the federal government to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. The administration of President Donald J. Trump has insisted such local resistance endangers public safety, and is now threatening to cut federal aid to “sanctuary cities.”

Trump himself said in a television interview earlier this year that sanctuary cities “breed crime,” and attorney general Jeff Sessions recently threatened to cut off federal funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities when they ask that suspected violators of immigration law be held in custody even without a warrant.

The study includes a comparison of the average rate of crime in sanctuary cities with comparable non-sanctuary cities, using available police data reported to the FBI for each year between 2000 and 2014. One graph in that study, which has received widespread publicity even before its official release, showed slightly higher rates of violent crime for the sanctuary cities.

Collingwood said the differences in crime rates between sanctuary cities and non-sanctuary cities were within the margin of error, “overlapping in every single instance.” As a result, he said, “We can’t make any sort of conclusion from a statistical standpoint that those cities have more or less crime.”

The team’s research also examined whether crime rates changed in cities that adopted policies as sanctuary cities, and found that the crime rate in some rose while dropping elsewhere. As the researchers wrote in the Washington Post article, “A sanctuary policy itself has no statistically meaningful effect on crime.”

Conservative commentator Joseph Farah, author of the WND article, defended his contrary interpretation in an email to Injustice Watch.

“Any objective person can see that statistics over a 15-year period that are consistent and significant belie the conclusion the researchers wanted to show so badly they ignored the data they collected,” Farah wrote. “Besides that, the term ‘margin of error’ is never once used in the entire report.”

The study explains the margin of error portrayed in the graph: “If the two lines for each year cross each other at any point, then the relationship between violent crime and city-type is not statistically significant.”

Immigration advocates and officials in many immigrant-heavy major metropolitan areas have supported sanctuary policies for years, arguing that immigration enforcement should be left to the federal government, and that public safety is improved when immigrants can report crimes and cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

“Sanctuary cities as of themselves probably do have more crime just because they’re bigger urban environments, but it has nothing to do with sanctuary policies themselves,” Collingwood said.

Farah, the former editor of the late Sacramento Union, has in recent years promoted dubious claims including challenging former President Barack Obama’s birthplace.

A separate study by a University of California – San Diego researcher, Tom K. Wong, published in January by the Center for American Progress found lower crime rates in counties where sheriffs refuse to hold detainees when requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) than in counties that cooperate with ICE.

Wong found that 65.4 fewer crimes per 10,000 people were committed in large metropolitan “sanctuary counties” than similar non-sanctuary counties, and 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people were committed in all sanctuary counties than non-sanctuary counties.