Shades of blue: Local policing, legality, and immigration law

Doris Marie Provine, Paul Lewis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Local law enforcement has often been described as the “thin blue line” that protects the American public from criminality, a perspective that emphasizes the responsibility of police officers to balance the demands of public safety and individual rights. Local law enforcement can also be described as government at its most decentralized level, a perspective with significant implications for the study of immigration enforcement. Police and sheriffs enforce locally enacted laws at a local level and answer to local authorities. Localism in law enforcement is part of the constitutional design. From the perspective of the federal government, however, the traditional independence of local law enforcement from federal authority can impede the realization of important policy goals, such as the enforcement of federal immigration laws. In this view, local law enforcement has the potential to be a valuable “force multiplier” in the effort to detect and remove unauthorized immigrants from the nation’s interior. Under the umbrella of cooperative federalism, what was once an informal and sporadic relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities is morphing into something much more intense and organized. The process began in 1996 when the federal agency charged with immigration enforcement, now called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), began to actively seek partnerships with local police departments and sheriffs (see Menjívar and Kanstroom, Chapter 1, regarding the expansion of deportations during this period). The idea was to increase the apprehension of undocumented immigrants by authorizing local police to make arrests and verify immigration status. This experiment in the devolution of enforcement authority, at first limited to a few interested jurisdictions, has now evolved into a national mandatory effort: Operation Secure Communities. The goal of this new program is to link local jails to federal immigration databases and require cooperation from jail officials in reporting and holding arrestees who appear to lack legal status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConstructing Immigrant 'Illegality'
Subtitle of host publicationCritiques, Experiences, and Responses
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781107300408
ISBN (Print)9781107041592
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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