NO! PROPAGANDA ABOUT SANCTUARY CITIES? NOT POSSIBLE!

photo credit: m01229 Wrapped Christmas Presents via photopin (license)

Good news! Sanctuary cities are better than Christmas morning! Who knew? Dr. Tom Wong—Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego—knew. The Center for American Progress recently published his study with the stunning conclusion that:

The data are clear: Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. Moreover, economies are stronger in sanctuary counties—from higher median household income, less poverty, and less reliance on public assistance to higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment.

Semi-expert that I am now on sanctuary cities (shameless plug alert: Deep Dive: Sanctuary Cities, Amazon, $2.99, you should check it out), I figured I better add such felicitous information to my store of knowledge. Having learned the very hard way to do all my own fact-checking, I began what was to quickly become an epic takedown of this bogus (did I really just say that?) study.

What follows is a wonky, satisfying-for-me dissection, bit by bit by bit, of Dr. Wong’s would-be Christmas morning. If you don’t like wonk, skip to the end, or, just take my word for it: to call this study worthless would be a compliment. To call it propaganda would be closer to the truth.

Shall we begin?

Dr. Wong starts by informing us that:

Using an Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, dataset obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center [ILRC], the analyses in this report provide new insights about how sanctuary counties perform across a range of social and economic indicators when compared to nonsanctuary counties.

I checked the helpful footnote for details on the ILRC data and was led to “Searching for Sanctuary: An Analysis of America’s Counties & Their Voluntary Assistance With Deportations.” Excited to see what kind of data set one gets from a FOIA request to ICE, I scoured the document.

Hmmm. That’s odd. In the entire document, including tables and footnotes, the only mention of the data set was:

The ILRC has been tracking local policies regarding assistance with deportations through city and county use of ICE detainers since 2013. In November 2016, we received data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that provided details on how local jails across the country have met with ICE and what levels of assistance they said they were willing to provide. Based on this data, as well as our own collected data from existing written policies and ordinances, we analyzed the extent of local assistance in civil immigration enforcement across the country.

I thought I must have missed something, but then I remembered I’m smarter than the average bear, and I do, in fact, know how to read a study. I can even check the footnotes. Very, very, carefully. By doing so, I was able to determine that the ILRC looked at a total of 2,556 counties and identified 635 (unnamed) sanctuary counties that refuse even to notify ICE of a release; and 142 (unnamed) sanctuary counties that notify ICE but won’t hold past release. In the absence of real clarity, I’m assuming those are distinct groups, which, added together, totals 777 sanctuary jurisdictions.

Back to Dr. Wong’s study, which, as you’ll remember, is based on the aforementioned ILRC data. Maybe, I thought, he will have identified the sanctuary jurisdictions by name. Hmmm. That’s odd. Nowhere in his study does he identify, well, much of anything. He notes:

The sanctuary jurisdictions analyzed here are defined as counties that ICE has identified as not willing to accept detainers. In the dataset, ICE codes 2,492 counties by their “Current Detainer/Notification Acceptance Status.”

[Note: “Current Detainer/Notification Acceptance Status” returns nothing relevant on ICE’s website, nor, for that matter, on the entire Internet.]

Excited to see another footnote, I was just sure I was about to find out which 2,492 were so identified. Nope. How crestfallen I was to read only:

After data cleaning and removing duplicates.

Is Dr. Wong talking about data cleaning and removing duplicates from ILRC’s 2,556 jurisdictions? Maybe. Likely even. But then why did he identify only 608 of them to be sanctuary? What I need is a real footnote with real information. A footnote, a footnote, my kingdom for a footnote!

To make it even more interesting, ICE published their own list of sanctuary jurisdictions last week and put the number at 128.

So conscientious was I to fact-check responsibly that I contacted the Center for American Progress and ILRC to request information about the specific data set they used. I have only heard back from ILRC, but, to be fair, I only contacted CAP today, so I don’t want to cast unnecessary aspersions. ILRC, however, had no specifics to provide and referred me back to:

The ILRC has been tracking local policies regarding assistance with deportations through city and county use of ICE detainers since 2013. In November 2016, we received data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that provided details on how local jails across the country have met with ICE and what levels of assistance they said they were willing to provide. Based on this data, as well as our own collected data from existing written policies and ordinances, we analyzed the extent of local assistance in civil immigration enforcement across the country.

On to the rest of Dr. Wong’s study I went, with no idea what jurisdictions he looked at, and no flippin’ idea which ones he identified as sanctuary and which ones as nonsanctuary. Which is a shame, because he got some pretty awesome results:

  • There are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
  • Median household annual income is, on average, $4,353 higher in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
  • The poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, on average, in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.
  • Unemployment is, on average, 1.1 percent lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

Just when I was beginning to think all was lost, and I would never get to the bottom of it, I came across the punchline:

…and then uses the results of the analysis to estimate the effect that being a sanctuary county has on crime and the economy.

And what’s that? Is that a footnote? Why, yes, yes it is, the very best footnote in the whole study:

Because the coding of sanctuary jurisdictions is relatively recent—January 2014—it is difficult to compare outcomes before and after a jurisdiction began declining detainers or requests for notifications (e.g., a difference-in-differences design). 

So…you’re telling me that Dr. Wong didn’t compare the effect of becoming a sanctuary on a jurisdiction, as in, “It became safer, better, richer after it became a sanctuary jurisdiction?” He merely found correlation between sanctuary cities only he knows and nonsanctuary cities only he knows?

I coulda had a V-8.

2 thoughts on “NO! PROPAGANDA ABOUT SANCTUARY CITIES? NOT POSSIBLE!

    1. Hey, long time no hear from,

      I have made it my personal mission to get to the bottom of the relationship between crime, sanctuary cities, and illegal aliens. Stay tuned!

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