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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Will tougher immigration enforcement lead to more crime?

Chiefs

Several police departments say they don't want to enforce federal immigration laws because they need illegal immigrants to trust them. That way, if they're a victim or a witness to a crime, they'll cooperate with officers.

Yesterday, in fact, police chiefs from Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia met with Attorney General Eric Holder to argue that point and oppose Arizona's new immigration law, which requires cops to check the papers of anybody they reasonably suspect of being here illegally. The chiefs are worried that crime will go up if they're forced to do a lot of immigration enforcement.

The Washington Post quotes the head of an Arizona sheriff's group, who doubts that:

Babeu said cooperation from illegal immigrants, particularly those coming from Mexico, is already low because they are in the United States illegally and because of law enforcement corruption in their native countries.

The Post notes that -- even as civil-rights group have raised issues about the law's constitutionality -- opinion polls show support for Arizona's law standing as high as 70 percent.

It's an interesting debate, but it's hard to find studies that can settle the dispute. The Atlantic has a good roundup here, noting that Prince William County, Va., saw lower crime rates even as it increased immigration enforcement -- but that Phoenix, which has a lot of illegal immigrants, also saw its crime rates decrease.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, left, accompanied by Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, center, and Sahuarita, Ariz. Police Chief John W. Harris, gestures during a news conference outside the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, May 26, 2010, following a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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