State & Local Involvement in Immigration Enforcement Not Worth the Cost

Aug 13, 2014
Jennifer Riddle

Last December, at CLINIC’s Southeast Legalization Planning Conference in Atlanta, we dedicated a morning to discussing immigration advocacy on the state and local levels.  Legal service providers and advocates shared troubling stories about local law enforcement engaging in immigration enforcement efforts in their communities. For example, local officials in Mississippi were partnering with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to set up traffic checkpoints in Latino neighborhoods on Sundays after mass.  We also heard about sheriffs in notorious 287(g) counties in Georgia disproportionately targeting immigrants for driving without a license and then turning them over to ICE to be placed into removal proceedings.  

The discussion then turned to why. Why would so many local law enforcement officials be willing -- even eager -- to help ICE?  Immigration laws are federal, and enforcing them is the responsibility of the federal government, not state and local officials.  When local police and sheriffs get involved in immigration enforcement, they 1) divert resources from their primary mission of preventing crime and protecting the community, and 2) undermine public safety because families who fear the immigration consequences of interacting with police are less likely to report crime.  An advocate from Louisiana wondered whether there was a financial incentive driving state and local law enforcement to work with ICE. Do sheriff and police departments get paid for the time and resources they devote to helping ICE enforce immigration laws? The basic answer to that question is “No.” Not only are state and local law enforcement agencies not reimbursed for helping ICE do its job, they often incur substantial costs to state and local taxpayers.     

To elaborate on this important question, CLINIC has created a new resource: The Cost of State & Local Involvement in Immigration Enforcement. First, this document summarizes the major programs through which ICE, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other federal agencies encourage state and local involvement in immigration enforcement and clarifies whether law enforcement agencies are required to participate.  Second, the resource discusses the cost to states and localities for participating in each program. Finally, it addresses to what extent the federal government reimburses the agencies for any of the costs of participation.

We hope that this resource will assist you in understanding (and sharing with others) how participating in immigration enforcement programs is not in the best interest of law enforcement or local communities. CLINIC will continue to develop resources to help you approach your local governments and law enforcement agencies and advocate for positive reforms that welcome and integrate – rather than punish – immigrant families.

 *Jennifer Riddle is the State and Local Advocacy Attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigraiton Network, Inc. (CLINIC)