The U.S. government has in recent years intensified its enforcement of immigration laws, deporting record numbers of unauthorized persons. At the same time, migration patterns are changing, and newer arrivals in the Hispanic community are moving to different areas of the country. Whether local law enforcement should become involved in immigration law is divided by two opinions according to The Police Chief, The Professional Voice of Law Enforcement (Jan. 2016):
Argument: Local Police Should Enforce Immigration Laws
Those who want state and local police to play an active role in immigration enforcement recognize the limits on the federal government’s ability to address the immigration enforcement. The federal government has struggled to secure the borders, deter illegal immigration, or track down those who overstay temporary visas. With an estimated 7-10 million undocumented immigrants in the country and only a few thousand federal immigration officers assigned to police the interior of the country, the federal government appears ill equipped to tackle illegal immigration. Some see it as only logical that the hundreds of thousands of local law enforcement officers be recruited to address the problem. Many local law enforcement executives can support this position because persons who are in the country illegally have violated the law and should be treated in the same fashion as other criminals.
Argument: Local Police Shouldn’t Enforcement Immigration Laws
There are a number of compelling reasons why local law enforcement executives should resist the temptation to make state and local police agencies the frontline enforcers of federal immigration laws. The federal government and its agencies are the authorities responsible for enforcement of immigration law. “The power to regulate immigration is unquestionably a federal power.” DeCannas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 96 S. Ct. 933 (1976). Congress “may not directly force states to assume enforcement of administrative responsibilities constitutionally vested in the federal government.” City of New York v. The United States of America, 179 F.3d 29, 34 (2nd Cir. 1999). Therefore, federal law does not require state agencies to assist the federal government in enforcement of immigration laws. These reasons take into the account the primary responsibility of local law enforcement, which is to fight crime at the local level. They also reflect the reality that immigrants both legal and undocumented have become a large part of our communities. Adding the federal responsibility of enforcing immigration laws to the job duties of local police officers would be imprudent and hinder their crime fighting at the local level. The federal government should address the real threats the nation faces and the issue of illegal immigration without making the job of state and local police more difficult.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Public Administration Research, “Why Do (Some) City Police Departments Enforce Federal Immigration Law?”, http://jpart.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/10/02/jopart.mus045.abstract looks at factors stimulating enforcement of federal immigration laws for cities near the borders. The study, from Arizona State University and John Jay College-CUNY, analyzes data from a survey of police chiefs from 237 large- and medium-sized cities nationwide over the period 2007 to 2008. The evidence indicates that there is a “significant reservoir of bureaucratic discretion” among police forces in enforcing such laws, and the researchers sought to pinpoint the drivers of more- or less-intensive enforcement.
The study’s findings include:
- Among the 237 police departments surveyed, police officers checked immigration status in 87% of arrests for violent crimes, 64% of the arrests for domestic violence, 59% of interviews of victims of suspected human trafficking and 21% of traffic violations.
- The presence of a Hispanic police chief is associated with a reduction in the intensity of enforcement of immigration-related laws.
- In cities where the majority of voters are Republican and police chiefs report to the mayor and city council rather than a professional manager, there are significant increases in the level of enforcement. “Police practices — in the form of the police enforcement score — do have a relationship with city government policy. More aggressive immigration policing is associated with a stricter city policy.”
- “Nearly half of the city governments have sent no clear policy signal regarding immigration policing to their police department (according to the chief),” the data suggest. “This means that departments in such cities are necessarily devising their own strategies for how to deal with possible unauthorized immigrants or — if there are no departmental guidelines — are leaving decisions about such interactions to street-level decisions by officers.”
- “Contrary to the threat hypothesis, the rate of increase in the local proportion of immigrants, all else equal, is not associated with our measures of city policy or police practices. And in fact, cities with high shares of immigrants in the population tend to experience less aggressive enforcement. Moreover, seemingly objective measures of community crisis, such as rates of unemployment or of violent crime, do not show any significant relationship to the outcomes we have measured.” When surveyed, police in communities with large immigrant populations would enforce regulations in 11% fewer situations.
- Cities near Canada are more likely (65%) to have no city policy on immigration policy than their southern border colleagues (45%).
The results suggest that local immigration enforcement is more multifaceted than political party leanings, perceived demographic “threats” or the composition of immigrants in a community. “Supposedly ‘objective’ local conditions that people worry about regarding immigration, such as crime rates, unemployment rates or the sheer amount of recent growth in immigrants, don’t seem to matter very much in influencing the amount of local immigration-enforcement activity,” the researchers note. The study concludes, “We find that immigrant-supportive city policy commitments and the presence of a Hispanic police chief are associated with less intensive immigration enforcement by local police. Voter partisanship is also related to police practices, but only in cities with an unreformed form of government.”