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The Political Economy of Immigration Enforcement: Conflict and Cooperation under Federalism

Alberto Ciancio, Camilo García-Jimeno

NBER Working Paper No. 25766
Issued in April 2019
NBER Program(s):Law and Economics, Public Economics, Political Economy

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25766

 
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