Increased Immigration Enforcement and the Public Safety of Hispanics

04/01/2024
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This figure is a two-panel line graph titled, Immigration Enforcement and Public Safety Outcomes. The following pertains to the left-side panel. The y-axis is labeled, share of individuals victimized. It ranges from 0.6% to 1.2%. The x-axis is labeled, quarters around secure communities implementation. It ranges from negative 8 to 8. There is a vertical dotted line at 0 that is labeled, Secure Communities Program implemented. The graph features two lines: Hispanic and Non-Hispanic, representing trends before and after the implementation of the Secure Communities program. The Hispanic line begins at approximately 0.95% and slightly declines to around 0.875% before the program's start. Following the implementation, the line sharply increases to about 1.15% at 4 quarters post-implementation. Subsequently, it drops significantly to roughly 0.85% at 8 quarters after the program's introduction. The Non-Hispanic line starts at around 0.9% and decreases to approximately 0.825% prior to the program's commencement. After the implementation, the line remains relatively stable, fluctuating between 0.8% and 0.9%, with minor variations. At 8 quarters post-implementation, the Non-Hispanic line concludes just below 0.8%. The following pertains to the right-side panel. The y-axis is labeled, share of individuals reporting crimes to the police. It ranges from 20% to 45%, increasing in increments in of 5%. The x-axis is labeled, quarters around secure communities implementation. It ranges from negative 8 to 8. There is a vertical dotted line at 0 that is labeled, Secure Communities Program implemented. The graph features two lines: Hispanic and Non-Hispanic, representing trends before and after the implementation of the Secure Communities program. Before the start of the program, the Hispanic and Non-Hispanic lines exhibit inverted trends, with fluctuations between 30% and 37.5%. When the Hispanic line increases, the Non-Hispanic line decreases, and vice versa. After the program's implementation, the two lines diverge. The Non-Hispanic line experiences fluctuations between 30% and 35%, while the Hispanic line sees a steep decline, falling below 25% at 3 quarters following the implementation. However, both lines converge towards 30% at 8 quarters after the program's introduction, suggesting a narrowing of the gap between the two groups over time.The following pertain to both panels. The note on the figure reads, The 2008 Secure Communities program significantly expanded the federal government’s ability to identify and detain arrested individuals who are also in violation of immigration law. The source line reads, Source: Researchersʼ calculations using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey.

 

In 2008, the US government launched the Secure Communities (SC) program, an information-sharing initiative that expanded the government’s ability to identify and detain individuals in violation of immigration law who were arrested for criminal offenses. The program, which was promoted as a way to improve public safety, was implemented piecemeal across counties between October 2008 and January 2013. It doubled the number of individuals transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, 90 percent of whom were Hispanic.

The SC program required that the fingerprints of individuals booked in local jails, typically sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also be forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security. This latter agency could then determine whether to initiate deportation proceedings. Over half of subsequent ICE arrests resulted from these local law enforcement referrals, and the program raised the number of transfers to ICE custody by 50 percent. Following this increased collaboration between local police and federal immigration authorities, law enforcement officials warned that this program would reduce trust in police among immigrant communities and reduce police effectiveness.

In Immigration Enforcement and Public Safety (NBER Working Paper 32109), Felipe M. Gonçalves, Elisa Jácome, and Emily K. Weisburst study the county-level introduction of the SC program and the effect of this increase in immigration enforcement on criminal victimizations and on the likelihood of victims reporting crimes to the police. Using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, they show that after the SC program went into effect, Hispanics were 30 percent less likely to report criminal incidents to the police.

Mandatory information sharing between local police and ICE led to a 30 percent decrease in reporting of crimes and a 16 percent rise in victimization among US Hispanics.

At the same time, victimizations of Hispanics rose 16 percent, which translates to 1.3 million more crimes — mostly property crimes — with Hispanic victims in the two years following the program’s implementation. The researchers did not find any change in crime reporting or victimization rates for non-Hispanics. Counties with larger declines in reporting rates experienced larger increases in victimization rates, suggesting that the decline in crime reporting among Hispanics was the key channel through which SC increased victimization.

The researchers also analyze data on 911 calls and arrests from 75 US police departments over the 2006 to 2013 period. They find that the volume of arrests post-SC did not change in either Hispanic or non-Hispanic neighborhoods, but that in predominately Hispanic neighborhoods there was a 3 percent decline in the Hispanic share of arrestees. This change in the composition of offenders is consistent with the SC program having raised the expected cost of committing a crime — by increasing the likelihood of deportation — among unauthorized immigrants. On the other hand, citizen offenders were incentivized to commit additional crimes given the lower likelihood of apprehension in these neighborhoods.

The research shows that officially reported crime rates may obscure substantial changes in underlying victimization levels. Reported crime rates were unaffected by the SC program, masking the increase in Hispanic victimization and the decrease in Hispanic crime reporting. This finding highlights the crucial importance of separately measuring changes in victimization and reporting behavior to accurately detect the full impact of policies like SC on public safety.

— Leonardo Vasquez


The researchers are grateful to the Russell Sage Foundation and the Ziman Center for Real Estate for generous funding.