Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox: Research on Secure Communities

Secure Communities is the largest cooperative immigration enforcement program in the nation’s history.  My co-author Professor Adam B. Cox and I have undertaken a large-scale empirical study of the program: of its goals, its consequences for crime, and its effects on local policing.  The first two articles from our study are available below.  Additional findings and papers will be available here in the coming months:

Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime? Evidence from “Secure Communities” (download a PDF here)
Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox, forthcoming The Journal of Law and Economics, November 2014

Abstract.  Does immigration enforcement reduce crime?  Little evidence exists either way—despite the fact that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes has been a central feature of American immigration law since the early twentieth century.  We exploit a natural policy experiment to address the question and, in the process, provide the first empirical assessment of the most important deportation initiative to be rolled out in decades.  The policy initiative we study is “Secure Communities,” a program designed to enable the federal government to check the immigration status of every single person arrested for a crime by local police.  Before this program, the government checked the immigration status of only a small fraction of arrestees.  Since its launch, the program has led to over a quarter of a million detentions.  We utilize the staggered rollout of the program across the country to obtain differences-in-differences estimates of its impact on crime rates.  We also use unique counts of the detainees from each county and month to estimate the elasticity of crime with respect to detained immigrants.  The results show the Secure Communities program has had no observable effect on crime rates.  The estimates imply that the marginal immigrant detainee is a less serious offender than the marginal criminal inmate.  

Policing Immigration (download a PDF here)
Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox, 80 University of Chicago Law Review 87 (2013)

Abstract.  Immigration enforcement is increasingly integrated with local policing. This trend accelerated in 2008 when the federal government launched “Secure Communities,” a program designed to check the immigration status of every person arrested by local police. The government views the program as an innovation that enhances the efficacy of crime control and immigration enforcement, while civil rights groups have decried it as an invitation to racial profiling by local police. This paper uses the pattern of Secure Communities’ rollout to evaluate empirically the role of enforcement discretion—a subject whose study is typically precluded by a lack of data.  Constrained by limited resources, the federal government staggered the activation of Secure Communities across counties, rolling the program out over a period of four years.  The rollout’s pattern provides a revealing look at the federal government’s priorities in a world where simultaneous nationwide activation was impossible.  The data undercut the government’s claims that the program’s central priority was to make communities more secure from crime.  Moreover, the fact that early activation in the program correlates strongly with whether a county has a large Hispanic population raises important questions about demographic profiling in immigration enforcement.

Miles and Cox, Does Immigration Enforcement Reduce Crime?