Legitimacy and Cooperation: Will Immigrants Cooperate with Local Police Who Enforce Federal Immigration Law?

65 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2015 Last revised: 4 Nov 2015

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: September 9, 2015


Solving crimes often requires community cooperation. Cooperation is thought by many scholars to depend critically on whether community members believe that law enforcement institutions are legitimate and trustworthy. Yet establishing an empirical link between legitimacy and cooperation has proven elusive, with most studies relying on surveys or lab experiments of people’s beliefs and attitudes, rather than on their behavior in the real world. This Article aims to overcome these shortcomings, capitalizing on a unique natural policy experiment to directly address a fundamental question about legitimacy, cooperation, and law enforcement success: do de-legitimating policy interventions actually undermine community cooperation with the police? The policy experiment is a massive federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities. Secure Communities was widely criticized for undermining the legitimacy of local police in the eyes of immigrants, and it was rolled out nationwide over a four-year period in a way that approximates a natural experiment. Using the rate at which police solve crimes as a proxy for community cooperation, we find no evidence that the program reduced community cooperation — despite its massive size and broad scope. The results call into question optimistic claims that discrete policy interventions can, in the short run, meaningfully affect community perceptions of law enforcement legitimacy in ways that shape community cooperation with police.

Keywords: cooperation, legitimacy, procedural justice, immigration, police

Suggested Citation

Cox, Adam B. and Miles, Thomas J., Legitimacy and Cooperation: Will Immigrants Cooperate with Local Police Who Enforce Federal Immigration Law? (September 9, 2015). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 734; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 543; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-43; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 15-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2658265 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2658265

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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