This project considers the impacts and consequences of non-border policing and immigration enforcement by non-federal law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the U.S. South. U.S. immigration authorities have historically focused on the U.S.-Mexico border as a priority enforcement site, but today immigration policing extends deep into the U.S. interior. Indeed, since the late 1990s and especially since 2001, non-border policing has emerged as a mainstay of U.S. immigration enforcement. Moreover, experimental federal initiatives to devolve immigration enforcement to non-federal LEAs such as municipal police and county sheriffs through the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs have become standard practice.

The growth of U.S. immigration enforcement in non-border spaces is particularly acute in the U.S. South, which has been fundamentally transformed by the large-scale recruitment of new immigrants into a wide range of labor markets over the past two decades. The 'nuevo New South' comprises a disproportionate share of immigration enforcement initiatives by non-federal LEAs and as such produces a disproportionate share of detention and deportation cases, relative to traditional immigrant destination sites in the U.S. Southwest and Northeast. Critics argue that the devolution of U.S. immigration enforcement in the U.S. South is rolling back new immigrants' civil rights, employment and education opportunities, access to housing, and physical mobility. Despite this is little social science research on non-federal immigration enforcement practices and its effect in the region. This project starts to fill this gap by a) exploring the genesis and mechanics of non-federal immigration in the U.S. South; b) analyzing the effects of 287(g) and Secure Communities on new immigrant populations in the U.S. South; and c) examining the political mobilization of immigrant rights groups in the region in response to non-federal immigration enforcement. The research site comprises all 287(g) and Secure Communities jurisdictions in the Atlanta GA metropolitan statistical area. Methodologically, the project employs archival research, public records analysis and mapping, interviews, and in-depth ethnographic fieldwork with police and immigrant rights groups. The project draws on the PIs' prior fieldwork in the U.S. South on 287(g) and race, immigrant integration, and political mobilization in new immigrant destinations.

This research promises two major contributions. First, it will advance scholarship on local immigration enforcement by providing spatial and ethnographic contexts to 287(g) and Secure Communities enforcement. To date research on this topic has centered on litigation and legislation, and as such does not explain how context, i.e. agency-specific police practices, local legal and political contexts, and community experiences and impacts, shape and are shaped by programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities. Second, it will also advance scholarship on Latinos in the U.S. South, which is mostly descriptive research on migration patterns and experiences, by exploring the racialized practices related to local immigration enforcement that structure Latinos' social, political, and economic exclusion. The PIs will consider how the historical and contemporary political, economic, and cultural logics of race in the region are shaping and are shaped by the implementation of programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities, as well as the role of immigrants in challenging and reworking racialized power relations in the region.

Project Report

Research problem Over the past decade U.S. immigration enforcement has undergone an important transformation in terms of its renewed focus on interior enforcement. This has been accomplished in large measure through experimental federal initiatives to devolve immigration policing to non-federal law enforcement agencies, such as city police and county sheriffs. Two such initiatives are the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs. These programs give non-federal law enforcement agencies the power to detain individuals on federal immigration charges. Our research focuses on county-based 287(g) and Secure Communities programs in the Atlanta metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Our research objectives are threefold: a) to explore the genesis and mechanics of 287(g) and Secure Communities at the county level across the Atlanta MSA; b) to analyze the effects of 287(g) and Secure Communities enforcement on new immigrant populations at the county level as well as across the MSA; and c) to examine the political mobilization of immigrant rights groups at the county level and across the MSA in response to both 287(g) and Secure Communities enforcement. Research activities The following research was conducted during the 2012 calendar year: a detailed policy analysis of immigration-related bills introduced into the Georgia state legislature between 2004 and 2012; in-depth interviews with sheriffs in 18 core counties in the Atlanta MSA, officials in 11 city police departments in the Atlanta MSA, and state-level law enforcement officials; in-depth interviews with 11 county-level prosecutors in 5 core counties in the Atlanta MSA; in-depth interviews with 7 municipal officials and 1 state official in the Atlanta MSA; in-depth interviews with 10 immigration attorneys in the Atlanta MSA; in-depth interviews at the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta; observation of 200+ deportation hearings in Atlanta; participant observation of 3 hearings held by the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board on issues related to state law H.B. 87; site visit to the Stewart Detention Center, a federal immigration jail south of Atlanta; compilation and analysis of county-level data on 287(g) and Secure Communities cases, demographic change, and sheriffing resources for the Atlanta MSA; policy analysis of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and its importance for Georgia H.B. 87; and, transcription of interviews. Findings Sheriffs are not a cohesive group when it comes to evaluating the pros and cons of programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities. Some sheriffs see these programs as an asset that contributes to their overall policing goals, and as a result have vigorously pursued these programs. Others see these programs as a burden with little direct benefit, particularly in terms of maintaining law enforcement connections to new immigrant community members. Given this basic disagreement, our research suggests that 287(g) and Secure Communities, despite being federally managed programs, operate in very different ways from one county to the next. This patchwork quality of 287(g) and Secure Communities is compounded by sheriffs’ institutional power to run their offices with a minimum of outside oversight or interference. Most 287(g) and Secure Communities programs are located at the county level. But this does not mean that county sheriffs are exclusively involved in these programs. Throughout the Atlanta MSA, county jails are common booking locations for all law enforcement professionals. This means that city police, who are not formally enrolled in either 287(g) or Secure Communities, may play an indirect role in these programs. This is a point of contention for some police chiefs in the Atlanta MSA. For example, some police departments in the region are concerned that 287(g) and Secure Communities are undermining community policing initiatives with new immigrant communities resident in their jurisdictions. City police are increasingly vocal about this problem, and have engaged actively with their county counterparts over these issues. However, it is not clear that police are altering their local policing practices as a result of their potential indirect involvement in county-based 287(g) and/or Secure Communities programs. Serious criminal offenders are deported from the Atlanta MSA as a result of the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs. However, an equally significant percentage of 287(g) and Secure Communities cases involve non-criminals – for example, individuals identified as deportable as a result of routine traffic enforcement. This is in part due to statewide laws which have made driving without a license an offense. It is also the case that some law enforcement agencies are focused on driving infractions, and that as a result of their enrollment or connection to either 287(g) or Secure Communities, civil immigration penalties are now commonly attached to what were once minor infractions at the city and/or county levels. This finding is strongly supported by qualitative interview data from police agencies, sheriffs’ offices, immigration lawyers, county prosecutors, immigrant rights organizations, immigrant service providers, and undocumented migrants. Findings related to research areas b) and c), as above, will be reported later.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Daniel Hammel
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Ohio State University
United States
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