Immigration Enforcement and Crime Control: A Study of Secure Communities

"Secure Communities" is the largest cooperative immigration enforcement program in American history. It has a simple goal: enabling the federal government to check the immigration status of every single person arrested for a crime by local police. NYU Law Professor Adam Cox and University of Chicago Law School Professor Thomas J. Miles are working on a large-scale empirical study of the program: its goals, its consequences for crime rates, and its intended and unintended effects on local policing. The first two papers from their study are available below. Additional findings and papers will be available here in the coming months.


Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime? Evidence from “Secure Communities”

Forthcoming The Journal of Law and Economics, November 2014

Abstract. 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 US counties to isolate the effect of Secure Communities on local crime rates. Moreover, we refine those estimates using rich data on the number of immigrants detained under the program in each county and monthdata obtained from the federal government through extensive FOIA requests. Our results show that Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate. Nor has it reduced rates of violent crimehomicides, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. This evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.

Download the paper.


Policing Immigration

80 University of Chicago Law Review 87 (2013)

Abstract. Immigration enforcement is increasingly integrated with local policing. This trend accelerated in 2008 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 uses the pattern of Secure Communities’ rollout to evaluate the central role that enforcement discretion plays in modern immigration law. Constrained by limited resources, the federal government staggered the activation of Secure Communities across more than 3,000 US counties, rolling the program out over a period of four years. The rollout’s pattern provides a revealing look at the federal government’s priorities in a world where simultaneous nationwide activation was impossible. The data call into question the government’s claim that a central priority of the program was to make communities more secure from crime by deporting noncitizens who commit crimes. 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.

Download the paper.

Adam Cox is a professor of law at New York University School of Law, where he teaches and writes about immigration law, constitutional law, and democracy. Before coming to NYU, he was a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School.

Thomas J. Miles is the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law & Economics and the Walter Mander Research Scholar at the University of Chicago Law School. His primary research interests are criminal justice and judicial behavior, and he teaches criminal law and securities regulation.
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