Estimating the Effects of Immigration Enforcement on Local Policing and Crime: Evidence from the Secure Communities


Recent changes in U.S. immigration enforcement have sought to complement strong border enforcement with a renewed emphasis on enforcement in the country’s interior. In 2008, the federal government introduced “Secure Communities,” a program that requires local law enforcement agencies to share arrestee information with federal immigration officials at the time of booking. Supporters of the program have argued that it will enhance public safety by facilitating the efficient removal of criminal aliens. Critics of the program have expressed concern that it will encourage local law enforcement agencies to engage in discriminatory or arbitrary policing practices, making arrests for the sole purpose of checking an individual’s immigration status. Since its introduction in 2008, the program has expanded to include all U.S. jurisdictions. We employ the staggered activation dates of Secure Communities across counties to examine whether the program has a detectable effect on the crime rates or the arrest behavior of municipal law enforcement agencies across U.S. cities. We do not observe any clear effect of the program on either crime or arrest patterns, suggesting that at least across the nation’s biggest cities, there is little evidence either for the most ambitious promises of the program or the greatest fears behind involving local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement.