Panel Paper: Icy Counties: Examining the Relationship between County Leadership and Community Characteristics, and the Adoption of Partnerships with ICE for Immigration Enforcement

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 6 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Zachary Bauer and Jocelyn Johnston, American University

The federal government, by way of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, is traditionally responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration laws. Due to perceptions regarding increased illegal immigration and related crime and public benefits abuse, the federal government has sought measures to manage enforcement more efficiently and effectively. The solution of choice was the creation of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which permits delegation of immigration enforcement authority to state and local governments. The 287(g) agreements authorize local law enforcement officers to perform immigration enforcement in their jurisdictions.

ICE’s 287(g) agreements offer the benefit of enhanced capacity to manage immigration enforcement. However, these agreements may also be associated with racial profiling, abuse of power, and heightened fear among immigrant populations (see Capps, Rosenblum, Rodriguez, and Chishti 2011; DHS Office of Inspector General 2010). Critics of 287(g) challenge the basic premise of the program, alleging that community leaders choosing to partner with ICE are motivated by a false sense of fear that accompanies increased migration to their communities and that partnering with ICE through 287(g) is racially motivated (see Capps, Rosenblum, Rodriguez, and Chishti 2011; Farris and Holman 2017; Lewis, Provine, Varsanyi, and Decker 2012).

This paper aims to disentangle the motivations of communities that partner with ICE through 287(g) agreements. One particular interest, flowing from representative bureaucracy theory, has to do with how the demographic characteristics of community leaders such as sheriffs, legislators, and public managers, might influence the tendency to affiliate with ICE. Do the race, ethnicity, gender of community leaders play a role in community decision about 287(g) agreements? If so, how?

We rely on a novel dataset of all U.S. counties for the years 2015 to 2018 to compare counties that do and do not partner with ICE through 287(g). In addition to the factors identified above, we examine community features that might affect the propensity to partner with ICE through 287(g) agreements, including terminations and restarts of these agreements; these county-level indicators include crime rates, public benefits use, population and labor market characteristics, pre-existing relationships with ICE, and others, in order to better understand which communities offer their services to supplement ICE enforcement.

Using a multi-method approach, to include in-depth interviews with relevant actors from 287(g) counties, we provide added detail on the mechanics of community choice and perceptions of the costs and benefits of these partnerships. Accordingly, our contributions include insights into how and why local governments decide to offer their services to augment federal immigration enforcement, and how community actors assess the impacts of these local-federal agreements.