Many communities across the U.S. have adopted so-called “sanctuary policies” that are intended to ensure that we all live in safe neighborhoods. When these policies are in place, local police don’t take part in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

These policies allow immigrants to work with local law enforcement in reporting and investigating crimes without fear for themselves or family members of being targeted for deportation. With that in mind, people are much more likely to report crimes, regardless of their immigration status. New evidence suggests that one category of crime that sanctuary policies can help reduce is domestic violence.

In a newly released study, two economists find that sanctuary policies significantly reduce the most extreme form of domestic violence: domestic homicide.

The study finds that introducing sanctuary policies within a county lowers the domestic homicide rate for Hispanic women by an astonishing 62%. It draws this conclusion from crime data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) between 2003 and 2017.

The primary reason for this dramatic decrease is that sanctuary policies empower Hispanic women to call the police to report domestic violence without fear it will result in a deportation. Therefore, the escalation of domestic violence is more often interrupted before it reaches the point of murder.

The study concludes that “sanctuary policies appear effective in offering Hispanic women a true sanctuary against domestic violence.”

It is important to keep in mind that there is no one kind of sanctuary policy. The authors of the study focus on jurisdictions with some combination of the following six policies in which local police:

  1. Do not arrest people solely for federal immigration violations.
  2. Do not enter into 287(g) agreements with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) that deputize police officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
  3. Limit their response to ICE “detainers”—which are requests by ICE for police to hold someone in jail for up to 48 hours beyond the time they would otherwise be released.
  4. Decline to contract with the federal government to hold immigrants in detention.
  5. Decline to allow ICE agents into local jails without a warrant.
  6. Restrict immigration enforcement in “sensitive locations” like hospitals, schools, or court houses.

Sanctuary policies correspond with the best practices of community policing. The root of the approach is the recognition that police officers cannot effectively serve a community unless they have the trust of community members.

In the immigration context, community members need to trust that police officers will serve and protect everyone equally regardless of immigration status. If police become proxy immigration agents, that trust is broken.

In the case of domestic violence, women will not report their abusers to police if they fear that their legal status, or the status of their family, might be used against them for immigration purposes. Abusers often use the immigration status of their victims as a weapon. They threaten to turn the victims into immigration authorities if the victims dare to call the police to stop the abuse.

While sanctuary policies protect the victims of crime, they do not shield criminals. Police are free to enforce all criminal laws against anyone no matter their immigration status. Nor do sanctuary policies in any way hide immigrants from federal authorities. The police are not stopping ICE agents from entering a community and apprehending anyone who lacks legal status.

We are all more secure when people believe they can trust in law enforcement. The public debate about sanctuary policies should be driven by facts and our collective desire to create and support a safer society for all.