Three Things to Know About Today's Senate Vote on Sanctuary Cities

A bill to cut federal funding to cities that don’t deport undocumented immigrants was blocked by Senate Democrats.

Sanctuary city policies have been in the spotlight since the killing of a San Francisco woman, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant with a felony record. (mary jane watson/Flickr)

U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have cut federal money for local law enforcement in “sanctuary cities,” places that refuse to cooperate with the federal government on the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

With a 54 to 45 vote, Republicans fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. It was sometimes called "Kate's law" after Kathryn Steinle, whose high-profile murder in San Francisco this summer revived debate around sanctuary cities.

Earlier this week, The New York Times published an op-ed on the vote, calling it “a false fix for a concocted problem.” The op-ed argued that the concept that sanctuary cities provide safe haven for criminal immigrants is “based on the lie, now infecting the Republican presidential campaign, that all unauthorized immigrants are dangerous criminals who must be subdued by extraordinary means.”

Yet Republicans, including Senator Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, say that sanctuary cities pose a true threat. "President Obama’s own Secretary of Homeland Security has declared that sanctuary cities are, quote, ‘not acceptable’ and ‘counter-productive to public safety,’” Toomey said last week. “After all, we’re talking about criminals who the Obama Administration already has deemed dangerous enough to deserve removal from our country."

In July, 32-year-old Steinle was killed as she walked along a pier with her father in San Francisco. Juan Lopez-Sanchez, a repeat felon (mostly for drug charges) and Mexican national who’d been deported five times, was charged with shooting Steinle in the back. The motive remains unclear, but the murder set off a huge backlash and provided politicians with an example of an immigrant seemingly released because of a lenient sanctuary-city policy who later murdered an innocent.

Lopez-Sanchez had been arrested and held by the feds in Victorville, sent north to sheriff’s custody in San Francisco for a decade’s old marijuana charge, then released when the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case.

During the ongoing debate, advocates like America’s Voice have called for cooler heads. This tragedy, they say, does not reflect immigrants in America, or sanctuary cities.

Where are sanctuary cities?

Sanctuary cities and counties tend to be located on a coast, near larger, more liberal cities. Although, as seen in the map below, Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico have a number of them. (To view the below graphic as a map, click here.)

These are the 340 cities and counties considered "sanctuary cities" by the Center for Immigration Studies. (Center For Immigration Studies)

Are immigrants more violent than citizens?

No. Time, and time again, research has shown that immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than citizens. In fact, while the share of America’s foreign-born and unauthorized population has increased, violent crime in the U.S. has decreased.

Immigrants are least likely to commit a crime. (Pew Research Center)

Are sanctuary cities more violent than others?

There isn’t much national research on this. What we do know is that in the past two decades, national crime has trended downward in most cities. Mother Jones looked into this after Steinle was murdered and it found that when compared to non-sanctuary cities of similar size, San Francisco had a much lower homicide rate.

The Mother Jones analysis compared the murder rate per 100,000 residents in 2013 and found that Indianapolis (15), Dallas, Columbus, Jacksonville (each with 11), and Fort Worth (6) had higher murder rates than San Francisco.