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Fragmenting the Community: Immigration Enforcement and the Unintended Consequences of Local Police Non-Cooperation Policies

41 Pages Posted: 8 May 2013  

Natashia Tidwell

New England Law | Boston

Date Written: May 6, 2013


The role of local police in federal immigration enforcement remains a divisive issue, both within the legislative branch and among the public at large. Congress’s failure to enact meaningful reform coupled with a post September 11, 2001 increase in the federal government’s reliance on local police to shore up the country’s internal enforcement have transformed local police chiefs into the “public face of the immigration debate.” For these police executives, striking the proper balance between “community” and “policing” is a vexing challenge, one that raises the question of whether the two competing concerns are mutually exclusive. In an effort to establish and maintain trusting relationships with immigrants in their communities, police officials have adopted policies of non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Most recently, and in the face of heavy opposition, officials in several major cities notified federal authorities of their intent to “opt-out” of Secure Communities, a federal enforcement initiative that relies on local police departments to share arrestee fingerprint data with federal immigration authorities to assist in the detection and eventual deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal records. This Article challenges the soundness of such non-enforcement policies and argues that any benefit the police hope to gain in the form of relationship building with immigrant communities must be counterbalanced against the potential fragmentation of the larger community where dissident voices are either ignored or derisively dismissed. By internalizing values that please some groups at the expense of and in opposition to others, the police risk eroding their legitimacy with both groups. If the establishment of enduring relationships of trust and cooperation with immigrant communities is truly the goal, the police must seek alternative roads to legitimacy that, while harder to achieve, are more likely to withstand the shifting political winds that grip our nation’s immigration reform debate. Otherwise, they risk missing the trees – the conceivable loss of their own legitimacy – in the forest of good will generated by their political benevolence.

Keywords: Immigration enforcement, Legitimacy, Community policing

Suggested Citation

Tidwell, Natashia, Fragmenting the Community: Immigration Enforcement and the Unintended Consequences of Local Police Non-Cooperation Policies (May 6, 2013). St. John's Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 1, 2014; New England Law | Boston Research Paper No. 13-13. Available at SSRN:

Natashia Tidwell (Contact Author)

New England Law | Boston ( email )

154 Stuart St.
Boston, MA 02116
United States

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