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.