Policing Immigration

51 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2012 Last revised: 27 Apr 2013

See all articles by Adam B. Cox

Adam B. Cox

New York University School of Law

Thomas J. Miles

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: December 12, 2012


Immigration enforcement is increasingly integrated with local policing. This trend accelerated four years ago when the federal government launched “Secure Communities,” a program designed to check the immigration status of every person arrested by local police. The government views the program as an innovation that enhances the efficacy of crime control and immigration enforcement, while civil rights groups have decried it as an invitation to racial profiling by local police. This paper, part of a larger project providing the first large-scale empirical evaluation of Secure Communities, uses the pattern of the program’s activation to explore a central feature of criminal and administrative law that rarely lends itself to empirical examination — the role of discretion in policing. Constrained by limited resources, the agency staggered the program’s activation across counties, revealing the federal government’s priorities for implementation in the face of competing political and programmatic incentives. The data undercut the government’s claims that the program is all about making communities more secure from crime. Moreover, the fact that early activation in the program correlates strongly with whether a county has a large Hispanic population raises important questions about demographic profiling in immigration enforcement.

Keywords: crime, immigration, discretion, discrimination, profiling

Suggested Citation

Cox, Adam B. and Miles, Thomas J., Policing Immigration (December 12, 2012). The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 80, 2013; 7th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 12-48; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 416; U of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 632. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2109820 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2109820

Adam B. Cox (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Thomas J. Miles

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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