The Political Economy of Immigration Enforcement: Conflict and Cooperation under Federalism
We study how the shared responsibilities over immigration enforcement by local and federal levels in the US shape immigration enforcement outcomes, using detailed data on the Secure Communities program (2008-2014). Tracking the movement of arrested unlawfully present immigrants along the several steps of the immigration enforcement pipeline, and exploiting a large shift in federal enforcement priorities in mid 2011, we disentangle the three key components of the variation in deportation rates: federal enforcement efforts, local enforcement efforts, and the composition of the pool of arrestees. This decomposition allows us to recover the local (county) level response to changes in federal enforcement intensity. Among urban counties, 80 percent, mostly Democratic but with small shares of Hispanics, exhibit strategic substitutabilities. The inverse relationship between federal and local efforts allowed most counties to reduce opposition to the policy, and was accompanied by an increased alignment of local and federal preferences. The federal level was very effective in directing its enforcement efforts towards counties where it expected local collaboration, but conflict was mostly driven by a change in the types of unlawfully present immigrants it prioritized for removal.
We especially thank Holger Sieg, who encouraged us to pursue this research project. We are also grateful to Elizabeth Cascio, Frank DiTraglia, Pablo Montagnes, Petra Todd, Ken Wolpin, and to participants at the Politics, Race, and the Economy session at the 2019 ASSA meetings, at USC, and Emory for their suggestions, and to the Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods at Emory University for its financial support. We also thank the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University for sharing their database with us as fellows of the center. We thank Ashwin Kambhampati for excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.