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Enforcing immigration law at a local level

NSF Award:

Local Policing in the Context of Immigration: Further Explorations Using a Mixed Methods Approach  (Arizona State University)

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Immigration enforcement stands at the juncture of foreign and domestic policy, significantly impacting law enforcement practices, national security and local community dynamics. Traditionally, the federal government has set immigration enforcement policies and practices, leading some people to expect consistency across jurisdictions.  However, an NSF-funded study suggests that local enforcement is a patchwork of policies characterized by infrequent cross-jurisdictional consultation and coordination.   

Drawing primarily on surveys and interviews with police chiefs and sheriffs, an interdisciplinary research team investigated how local law enforcement agencies develop immigration enforcement policies and practices for their communities. The researchers found that most of the policymaking occurs at the local level, although a few states are attempting to direct immigration law-enforcement policy statewide.  Policy decisions also appear to be influenced more by local intergovernmental dynamics than by objective enforcement needs.

In addition, local communities and law enforcement differ in their view of local enforcement of immigration law, with communities downplaying the problems associated with these responsibilities. Demographic change, the form of local government and the police chief's ethnicity can significantly impact enforcement approaches. Lower levels of enforcement are evident in departments in which the police chief was an ethnic minority.

The research team disseminated their results to the National League of Cities and to state and local police officer standards and training councils as well as to academic audiences.


  • demonstrators at an immigration rally
An immigration demonstration.
Doris Marie Provine, Arizona State University

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