Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime? Evidence from 'Secure Communities'

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 Last revised: 7 Oct 2014

Thomas J. Miles

University of Chicago - Law School

Adam B. Cox

New York University School of Law

Date Written: August 21, 2014


Does immigration enforcement actually reduce crime? Surprisingly, little evidence exists either way — despite the fact that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes has been a central feature of American immigration law since the early twentieth century. We capitalize on a natural policy experiment to address the question and, in the process, provide the first empirical analysis of the most important deportation initiative to be rolled out in decades. The policy initiative we study is “Secure Communities,” a program designed to enable the federal government to check the immigration status of every person arrested for a crime by local police. Before this program, the government checked the immigration status of only a small fraction of arrestees. Since its launch, the program has led to over a quarter of a million detentions. We exploit the slow rollout of the program across more than 3,000 U.S. counties to obtain differences-in-differences estimates of the impact of Secure Communities on local crime rates. We also use rich data on the number of immigrants detained under the program in each county and month — data obtained from the federal government through extensive FOIA requests — to estimate the elasticity of crime with respect to incapacitated immigrants. Our results show that Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate. Nor has it reduced rates of violent crime — homicide, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. This evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.

Keywords: immigration, crime, deportation, secure communities

JEL Classification: K42, K37, K14, J15

Suggested Citation

Miles, Thomas J. and Cox, Adam B., Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime? Evidence from 'Secure Communities' (August 21, 2014). Journal of Law and Economics, Forthcoming; University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 705; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 490; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-54; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 14-25. Available at SSRN:

Thomas J. Miles (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

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

Adam B. Cox

New York University School of Law ( email )

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

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