Why Do (Some) City Police Departments Enforce Federal Immigration Law? Political, Demographic, and Organizational Influences on Local Choices
Lewis, Paul G., Provine, Doris Marie, Varsanyi, Monica W., Decker, Scott H., Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
With levels of human migration around the world at historic highs in recent decades, national governments have tightened immigration policies and expanded efforts to enforce them in unprecedented ways. These efforts have notably included the devolution of enforcement responsibility to local governments, social service agencies, and private actors (Guiraudon and Lahav 2000). In the United States, this trend has entailed a reconceptualization of traditional relationships between national and local governments. From its first systematic engagement with immigration legislation in the 1880s, the federal government had asserted essentially sole responsibility for setting and enforcing immigration laws. Thereafter, states and localities were occasionally involved in enforcement actions but not in immigration policy making per se (McDonald 1997; Tichenor 2002). The local role was conceived to lie in fostering immigrant integration, and states and localities were required by courts to treat noncitizens as persons, with full constitutional protections (Varsanyi 2008b).
Over the past decade or so, this arrangement began to change. Enabled by changes in federal legislation and by rising popular pressure to "do something" about unauthorized immigration, an increasing number of local governments authorized or required their police departments to participate in the identification of unauthorized immigrants and to cooperate with federal enforcement efforts led by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security. As such, local governments now hold a limited legal ability to discriminate against people on the basis of citizenship status and to take an active part in ascertaining that status. Some localities, however, have taken the opposite approach, discouraging or forbidding their police from inquiring about immigration status or collaborating with ICE. Local decisions regarding immigration enforcement are sometimes met with considerable controversy, including protests from both pro- and anti-immigrant groups. States sometimes enter the fray, asserting their authority to make policies more uniform. The passage in 2010 of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law, for example, was the state legislature's attempt to limit the discretion of municipalities in the state to determine their own policies toward immigrants; legislators expressed frustration with cities that had instructed officers not to ask about immigration status.
In this article, we seek to account for the considerable variation in how localities have responded to the opportunity to partake in enforcing federal immigration law. We draw upon a survey of police executives in 237 large- and medium-sized cities (1) nationwide that we administered in 2007-08. Our goals here are two-fold. First, we seek to account for variations in local policy choices and police practices regarding immigration enforcement. Our second goal is to enhance understanding of how governing bodies influence, and are influenced by, the bureaucracies under their formal control.
The engagement of local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws raises enduring theoretical issues regarding the political control of bureaucracies, albeit in a different context from the mostly national-level studies of regulatory agencies that characterize this literature. The context we study includes significant variation. Police departments differ in their reporting relationships to their municipal governments. They also differ in their internal organizational leadership, norms, and values, some of which have the potential to conflict with immigration enforcement. Thus, we are interested in the degree to which immigration-related practices and procedures in the police department are associated with the department's own organizational characteristics, and the extent to which police practices are driven by the policy choices of the mayor and council and the political leanings of the local electorate. …