State And Local Enforcement Of Immigration Policies Missing ‘Intended Targets’

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Legal and undocumented immigrants targeted by state and local law enforcement officials move to other parts of the United States instead of voluntarily relocating back to their countries of origin, reveals a working paper out this week by Tara Watson at Williams College. More specifically, officials enforcing immigration policies are most successful at driving out college educated immigrants into other parts of the United States, an indication that some enforcement policies are “missing their intended targets.”

Under the federal 287 (g) program, some state and local officials are authorized to enforce federal immigration law. When officials sign into such agreements, they are authorized to use the “local task force” model to inquire about the immigration status of detained individuals when they have reasonable cause to suspect a violation. Watson finds that both legal and undocumented immigrants are twice as likely to relocate within the country after officials inquire about legal status during the course of a police stop. College educated immigrants are the most likely to move because of such enforcement policies, an argument that the author surmises could affect local economies.

The report finds that the only place where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants do leave the country is in Maricopa County, Arizona– in part due to intense immigration enforcement tactics. But those extreme measures also come at a great price– anti-immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County has racked up numerous violations, lawsuits, and is now under a court-appointed monitor for his unconstitutional racial profiling tactics.

Excluding the extreme case of Maricopa County, the study found that enforcement policies increased the likelihood of immigrants moving out of the state by 57 percent. Watson’s findings otherwise serve as a strong rebuke to the argument that local and state officials enforcement efforts are effective tools in encouraging self-deportation, an idea that focuses on making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they would want to voluntarily leave the country.

The Obama administration ended 287(g) agreements last year in favor of other programs like Secure Communities. Even so, stringent enforcement policies tend to drive away the “productive workers” who help promote economic growth. After Alabama passed its harsh anti-immigration law which drove out 2.5 percent of the state’s population, some economists found that the state stood to lose more than $10.8 billion, up to 140,000 jobs in the state, $264.5 million in state tax revenue, and $93 million in local tax revenue.