The Drum Major Institute’s latest report, “The Cost of Failure: The Burden of Immigration Enforcement in America’s Cities,” finds that our fiscally strapped cities are bearing too much of the cost. From Nashville and Raleigh to San Francisco and Las Vegas, local immigration enforcement advances the federal enforcement agenda at the expense of local goals. Focusing on the federal immigration programs known as 287(g), the Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities, the report finds that:
• Local immigration enforcement is costly for city budgets and local economies. The federal government reimburses cities for less than a quarter of the costs incurred jailing immigrants who have committed crimes. Immigration enforcement also undercuts the vital contributions immigrants make to urban economies. When enforcement programs push immigrant consumers underground, business suffer and tax revenue is lost.
• Local immigration enforcement is counterproductive to public safety. Enforcing civil immigration laws diverts police time and resources away from criminal investigations. The unchecked growth of Secure Communities destroys successful policies that keep city authorities from inquiring about federal immigration status.
• Local immigration enforcement is misguided as a crime control strategy. ICE’s partnership programs consistently fail to focus on serious criminals, instead identifying thousands of undocumented and legal permanent residents who have committed minor offenses, or none at all. Support for local enforcement programs is based on a misguided understanding of the relationship between immigration and crime—immigrants are not more crime-prone than other groups.
Rather than the burden of immigration enforcement in tight fiscal times, local governments instead should embrace community policing strategies and include immigrants in crime-fighting efforts. Ultimately, immigration enforcement won’t be fully effective without a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policies that begins with the legalization and integration of immigrants and their families. Failing these and other needed immigration reforms, our local enforcement system will continue to burden our cities and sweep up immigrants who are supporting urban economies.