Panel Paper: Governing Immigration Detention: How & Why Do Localities Collaborate with ICE?

Friday, November 9, 2018
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jocelyn Johnston, American University

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency relies on an intergovernmental and inter-sectoral system to manage detention facilities for undocumented immigrants. Immigrant detention facilities are operated either: directly by ICE; through agreements with states or local governments; or through ICE contracts with private entities. As the population of apprehended undocumented immigrants continues to increase and deportations remain stagnant, ICE has struggled to house detainees. Federal facility overcrowding and consequent confinement quality issues have prompted ICE to collaborate with local governments as one method for expanding its detention capacity.

Government contracts have collaborative elements, and collaboration theory suggests that entities contract and/or partner with others to: mitigate resource constraints, expand organizational capacity, and reduce transaction costs. Local governments vary widely on detention contract and collaboration decisions, ranging from embracing – indeed, seeking - formal detention relationships with ICE, to declaring formal or informal “sanctuary city” status. We use collaboration theory, supplemented by literatures on intergovernmental relations and government contracting, to explore local government decisions to house ICE detainees, focusing on incentives such as economic benefits and ideological positions on ICE policy. Our objective is to help identify factors that act as catalysts and inhibitors to localities’ decisions.

We rely on data from the U.S. Department of Justice, and from Freedom of Information Act responses from ICE, to create a nationally representative dataset of 1,464 cities and counties that housed ICE undocumented immigrant detainees for one or more years between 2010 and 2016. We draw also from publicly available city and county economic indicators, measures of organizational capacity, and local demographic and ideological data. We compare cities and counties that contract with ICE in a given year to a nationally representative random sample of cities and counties that did not contract with ICE. To gain further perspectives on the nuances of these decisions, we supplement the analysis with a qualitative inquiry through in-depth interviews with relevant actors from governments that both do and do not contract with ICE, from contracting organizations, and from advocacy and other nonprofit organizations.

We hope to contribute through this research in three ways. First, we will assess whether and how established collaboration theories can help to explain why localities enter into contracts and collaborations with ICE to detain undocumented immigrants, focusing on economic, organizational, and community-based factors. Second, we extend our analysis to incorporate the often-overlooked role of sub-contracting by examining the propensity of cities and counties to subcontract all or portions of their detention operations to nongovernmental organizations. We then offer preliminary conclusions about factors driving subcontracting, and the impacts of subcontracting on immigrant detention. Third, we expand the scope of research on federalism and intergovernmental relations and management by examining the roles and impacts of direct federal-local contracts in a policy arena that is traditionally federal and politically charged.