Deportation Discretion: Where are County Jails Most Likely to Cooperate with Federal Immigration Officials?

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In 2008, the Secure Communities enforcement program extended deportation capacity throughout the nation by creating greater cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement. However, despite claims that the program would help enforce immigration law in a neutral manner, evidence from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own data reveal that deportations were much more common in some locations than in others. Examining program data between 2008 and 2013 across 2,669 counties, I found that counties with the smallest (less than 20 percent) and largest (over 40 percent) concentrations of Hispanic and Latinx residents would routinely turn noncitizens over for deportations. By contrast, counties with 20-40 percent Hispanic and Latinx residents were least likely to cooperate with DHS. Notably, ‘sanctuary’ designation did not necessarily translate into tangible protections for noncitizen arrestees. This disparity in enforcement has profound implications for the supposed impartiality of U.S. immigration policy.

The Case for Open Borders

Like most nations, the United States imposes substantial restrictions on immigration. If you want to move to the United States, you have to obtain visas and other travel documents, pay various fees, and wait possibly years before you are allowed to immigrate. Although such immigration restrictions are nearly universal, there is another option. In this brief, I argue that nations should adopt a policy of “open borders,” where movement between countries is easy and regulations are light. An open borders policy has a number of benefits. First, the lives of migrants are improved by immigration. An open borders regime would allow people to immigrate in search of better jobs, higher wages, and safety from violence. Second, migration improves the destination country. Migrants tend to have low crime rates, they often perform low status jobs that native workers do not want, and they increase the productivity of the destination country. Finally, contrary to popular myth, studies show that migrants do not displace native workers. Given the benefits of migration and relatively low cost, migration should be made “safe, legal, and common.”

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