Counties and cities send mixed messages on immigration

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Some counties and cities whose jurisdictions overlap differ in immigration enforcement, and that has led to conflict and mixed messages, an October article in the Migration Information Source says.

The article, by professors from City University of New York and Arizona State University, finds that county sheriffs are more likely than city police chiefs to check immigration status or report to federal authorities when they encounter suspected illegal immigrants.

A survey of sheriffs and police chiefs found that the difference held across a variety of encounters, including arrests for violent crimes and interviews with victims and witnesses.

That may be partly due to the unique nature of most county sheriffs, who are not only administrators but politicians--97 percent of surveyed sheriffs are directly elected, the article says.

They're also more likely to interact formally with federal authorities because they're responsible for jails. More than one-third of surveyed sheriffs had memoranda of understanding with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for how to deal with illegal immigrant detainees. That dwarfs the 3 percent of surveyed municipal police departments who had MOUs with ICE.

In practice, differences between counties and cities has led to diffusion of responsibility and conflicts.

The city of Raleigh, N.C., and its police department have no policy on immigration enforcement, but the county that includes Raleigh has a 287(g) agreement with ICE that gives it some immigration enforcement authority. City police officers can arrest people knowing their immigration status will be checked by the county, and the county can point to the fact that it does not make the arrests.

Community groups have criticized the practices because they say immigrants trust the police less and live in fear of detention, the article says, but neither the county nor the city is fully responsible.

In Mesa, Ariz., officials have tried to balance immigration enforcement and community policing, but Maricopa County, which contains Mesa, has aggressively focused on enforcement under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That kind of discrepancy makes immigration policy unpredictable, the article says.

For more:
- go to the article, "Immigration Federalism: Which Policy Prevails?"

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