The federal-local nexus in immigration enforcement policy: an evaluation of the secure communities program

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This study analyzes how current U.S. immigration enforcement policy has been carried out, specifically under the implementation of the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. Paying special attention to the enforcement-only policy

This study analyzes how current U.S. immigration enforcement policy has been carried out, specifically under the implementation of the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. Paying special attention to the enforcement-only policy hysteria and immigration patchwork trend since the 2000s, this study has the following research questions: (1) whether S-Comm has faithfully implemented enforcement actions for removing "dangerous" criminal noncitizens; (2) how counties with different immigration perspectives have responded to such an immigration enforcement program; and (3) whether the implementation of S-Comm has really made local communities safer as in the program goal.

For analysis, 541 counties were selected, and their noncitizen enforcement results under S-Comm were analyzed with 5 time points, covering a 13-month period (Dec. 2011 - Jan. 2013) with longitudinal data analyses. In spite of the rosy advertisement of this program, analysis of S-Comm showed a very different picture. Unlike the federal immigration agency's promise of targeting dangerous criminal noncitizens, 1 in 4 noncitizen removals were for noncriminal violations, and more than half of noncitizen deportations were for misdemeanor charges and immigration violations in the name of "criminal aliens." Based on latent class analysis, three distinct subgroups of counties having different immigration enforcement policy perspectives were extracted, and there have been huge local variations over time on two key intergovernmental enforcement actions under the implementation of S-Comm: immigration detainer issuances and noncitizen deportations. Finally, unlike the federal immigration agency's "immigrant-crime nexus" assumption for legitimating the implementation of S-Comm, no significant and meaningful associations between these two factors were found. With serious conflicts and debates among policy actors on the implementation of S-Comm, this program was finally terminated in November 2014; although, the essence of the policy continues under a different name.

A series of results from this study indicate that the current enforcement-only policy approach has been wrongfully implemented, and fundamental reconsideration of immigration policy should be made. Enforcement-focused immigration policy could not solve fundamental immigration-related problems, including why noncitizens immigrate and how they should be dealt with as humans. More rational and humane approaches to dealing with immigration should be discussed at the national and local levels.