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Police Discretion and Local Immigration Policymaking

24 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2012  

Rick Su

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: May 14, 2011


Immigration responsibilities in the United States are formally charged to a broad range of federal agencies, from the overseas screening of the State Department to the border patrols of the Department of Homeland Security. Yet in recent years, no department seems to have received more attention than that of the local police. For some, local police departments are frustrating our nation’s immigration laws by failing to fully participate in federal enforcement efforts. For others, it is precisely their participation that is a cause for concern. In response to these competing interests, a proliferation of competing state and federal laws have been enacted to restrict the kind of local law enforcement policies that can be established with respect to immigration enforcement.

This essay argues that as a means of defining the proper role of local police with respect to immigration, these restrictions on local policymaking is counterproductive. Rather than clarifying or standardizing local enforcement practices, these state and federal restrictions actually enhance individual police discretion at the expense of departmental supervision. By targeting local policies directly, these efforts undermine the supervisory relationship between line-level law officers and the departments they work for and the communities that they serve. As a result, the risk of police abuse is enhanced as local governments and police departments increasingly find it difficult to promulgate and enforce policies that would govern the conduct of their officers.

Keywords: Immigration, Local Government, Federalism, Immigration Federalism, Local Immigration Enforcement, Policing, Immigration Policing, Community Policing, Police Discretion, Racial Profiling

Suggested Citation

Su, Rick, Police Discretion and Local Immigration Policymaking (May 14, 2011). University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 4, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Rick Su (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
7166455134 (Phone)


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