Expert Commentary

State and local immigration enforcement in the United States

2011 study by the Migration Policy Institute on the state and local enforcement of the federal 287(g) section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, enacted in 1996, authorizes the federal government to work with state and local law-enforcement agencies to enforce national immigration laws. This can include screening detainees for immigration status and transferring potential deportees to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody.

In 2009 the federal government issued new guidelines asking state and local authorities to concentrate enforcement efforts on individuals considered public safety threats rather than universally screen for suspected undocumented immigrants. A 2011 Migration Policy Institute study, “Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287(g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement,” looks at the real-world consequences of the stated shift in enforcement priorities.

The study’s findings include:

  • Overall, only 50% of those detained under the 287(g) program had committed serious crimes.
  • In jurisdictions that used a targeted-screening approach, 70% of those placed in detainment had committed serious crimes.
  • In jurisdictions that continued to use the universal-screening approach, over 80% of detainees had only committed a misdemeanor or traffic violation.
  • The cost for detainment is high, with an average length of 81 days in detention at a cost of $60 per day, or nearly $5,000.
  • Communities where law enforcement officials continued to use the universal-screening approach reacted negatively. The result was an increased distrust of authorities and a shift of Hispanic populations to jurisdictions that used a targeted approach.

Because of the negative consequences and limited effectiveness of universal screening, the study’s researchers recommended that use of the targeted model be federally enforced across all state and local jurisdictions.

Tags: California, crime, Hispanic, Latino, race

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