Should State or Local Governments Enforce Federal Immigration Laws?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), in a Mar. 11, 2004 report entitled "Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement," offered the following:
contend that the federal government has scarce resources to enforce immigration law
and that state and local law enforcement entities should be utilized. To this end,
several proposals introduced in the 108th Congress would enhance the role of state
and local law officials in the enforcement of immigration law. Still, many continue
to question what role state and local law enforcement agencies should have in light
of limited state and local resources and immigration expertise.
States and localities bear the primary responsibility for defining and prosecuting
crimes. But beyond enforcing the laws or ordinances of their state or locality, state
and local officials may also have the authority to enforce some federal laws,
especially criminal laws. Immigration law provides for both criminal punishments
(e.g., alien smuggling, which is prosecuted in the courts) and civil violations (e.g.,
lack of legal status, which may lead to removal through a separate administrative
system). The states and localities have traditionally only been permitted to directly
enforce the criminal provisions, whereas the enforcement of the civil provisions has
been viewed as a federal responsibility with states playing an incidental supporting
Should State or Local Governments Enforce Federal Immigration Laws?
Janice K. Brewer, Governor (R) of the State of Arizona, issued the Apr. 23, 2010 executive order "Establishing Law Enforcement Training for Immigration Laws 0101-09," available at www.azgovernor.gov, that stated:
"Senate Bill 1070(57 KB) was signed into law on April 23, 2010, and establishes a statewide policy to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States...
Senate Bill 1070 requires a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state, county, city, town or other political subdivision when lawful contact is made and reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, to reasonably attempt, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person...
[I]mmigration enforcement by police agencies shall be implemented in a manner consistent with federal laws regulating immigration, protecting the civil rights of all persons and respecting the privileges and immunities of United States citizens."
Charlie Norwood, DDS, U.S. Representative (R-GA), in a July 9, 2003 House of Representatives statement, introduced the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003 (H.R. 2671), as follows:
are upwards of 400,000 individuals who have received final deportation
orders that are hiding in our communities. Their appeals have run out,
and those orders tell them, 'it's time to go.' But, the Bureau of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement can't find them!.. Let me say up
front that I respect the new leadership at the Department of Homeland
Security and appreciate the fact that they are acknowledging the INS'
past mistakes. But there is no way the 2,000 agents they have assigned
to find some 400,000 people can get the job done. They need help from
the folks who come across these people everyday during routine traffic
stops and during other activities in the course of their regular duty -
First and foremost, this bill will clarify that state and local
officers have the inherent authority to arrest and detain criminal and
illegal aliens during the normal course of their duty. We are a nation
of laws and it is just plain common sense to allow these officers to
enforce all the laws..."
Jeff Sessions, JD, U.S. Senator (R-AL), in his Senate Bill S. 1906, entitled "Homeland Security Enhancement Act of 2003," introduced on Nov. 20, 2003, mandated:
any other provision of law and reaffirming the existing inherent
authority of States, law enforcement personnel of a State or a
political subdivision of a State have the inherent authority of a
sovereign entity to apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal
custody aliens in the United States (including the transportation of
such aliens across State lines to detention centers), in the
enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. This State
authority has never been displaced or preempted by Congress."
NumbersUSA.com, an advocacy group for immigration reduction, in the section entitled "Hot Topic: State and Local Police in Immigration Law Enforcement" on its website (accessed June 15, 2007) stated:
and local police are badly needed to help overwhelmed federal
immigration authorities apprehend and detain illegal aliens in the
interior of our country. Bills have been introduced in Congress to
encourage and facilitate such collaberation between federal and
state/local law enforcement (and improve interior enforcement by other
means too). Here is why the bills are so badly needed:
Illegal aliens outnumber federal immigration agents by 5,000 to one.
Only 2,000 are active in enforcing the immigration laws in the interior
of our country. This number is too small to apprehend more than a
fraction of the illegal alien population now here... There doesn't
appear to be much chance in the near future that the number of federal
agents assigned to interior enforcement will reach anywhere near the
level that would be required for the feds to do the job by themselves.
than 600,000 state and local law enforcement officers already come into
contact with illegal aliens every day. Many of them, in the course of
their normal duties on their regular beat, routinely observe and even
stop illegal aliens — for example for traffic violations. And the vast
majority of these officers believe deeply in the rule of law and want
to help protect the security of their country."
James Jay Carafano, PhD, Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, in a June 14, 2004 testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, stated:
DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] and the states should
pursue, and Congress should support, the use of Section 287 of the
Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) as a mechanism for state and
local law enforcement to enforce the immigration aspect of border
security. Section 287 (g) of the INA provides authority for state and
local enforcement to investigate, detain, and arrest aliens on civil
and criminal grounds. Officers governed by a §287 (g) agreement must
receive adequate training and operate under the direction of federal
authorities. In addition, in a civil lawsuit, the state law enforcement
officers would be considered to have been acting under federal
authority, thereby shifting liability to the federal government and
providing additional immunity for the state law enforcement officers
enforcing federal laws."
Thomas G. Tancredo, U.S. Representative (R-CO), in a U.S. House statement retrieved from the Sep. 21, 2006 Congressional Record, expressed the following:
"One of the bills today is of particular
interest to me. It is the State and
Local Law Enforcement Cooperation
Act, and it talks about what we need to
do and the authority of the State and
local law enforcement to voluntarily
investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest,
detain, and transfer to Federal custody aliens in the U.S. in order to
assist in the enforcement of the immigration
laws... if everybody had done their
job there, including the Federal Government,
and the job had been done at
the local level, this gentleman [convicted murderer] would
have been off of the streets... We need
to engage the local communities in
this effort to help us... It is
our true and one single responsibility."
Thomas A. Saenz, JD, President and General Counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), stated the following in a Apr. 27, 2010 Special to CNN "Huge Risks of Arizona Immigration Law," available at www.cnn.com:
"With her signature Friday on Senate Bill 1070, Gov. Jan Brewer launched Arizona into a maelstrom of national controversy, community conflict and extreme fiscal risk... SB 1070 will be subject to multiple legal challenges, and the state will devote precious resources to defend a law that has so many serious constitutional flaws that it will likely never be implemented...
Coincidentally, Arizona's SB 1070 suffers from many of the same constitutional flaws as California's Proposition 187... federal court struck down Proposition 187 as an unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration, which is a role that belongs exclusively to the federal government.
SB 1070 is an even more direct attempt to establish the state's own immigration law and enforcement scheme...
SB 1070 would dramatically change every Arizonan's daily experience, especially anyone whose appearance, name, language or accent fits the stereotype of the undocumented.
It is this invitation or direction to police to engage in racial profiling, together with the state's unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration, that makes it unlikely that SB 1070 can ever be implemented."
The California Police Chiefs' Association in a Sep. 19, 2003 letter to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), stated:
"It is the strong opinion of the
California Police Chiefs’ Association that in order for local and state
law enforcement organizations to be effective partners with their
communities, it is imperative that they not be placed in the role of
detaining and arresting individuals based solely on a change in their
The California Senate Public Safety Committee, in a Aug. 21, 2002 bill analysis entitled "AJR 57 - Local Peace Officer Enforcement of Federal Immigration and Nationality Act," with 44 support - 23 oppose votes, argued:
"[I]mmigration enforcement by local police will
not make us safer from terrorism. Eroding the rapport and trust
between communities and police will, in fact, make us less safe.
Police need the cooperation of the communities they serve and
protect to collect information about suspicious behavior so they
can prevent terrorism and other crime. In communities where people
are afraid to talk to police, more crimes go unreported, fewer
witnesses come forth, and people are less likely to report
suspicious activity. Battered immigrant women are particularly
vulnerable, especially if they are married to a citizen or lawful
Local law enforcement agencies have opposed the U.S. Department of Justice's
proposed plan [Clear Act H.R. 2671] to have them enforce immigration laws because
it will adversely affect their ability to properly enforce
state and local laws in the diverse communities they serve."
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, in a June 8, 2006 immigration committee report entitled "Recommendations For Enforcement of Immigration Laws By Local Police Agencies," concluded that:
"Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level
of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities. If the undocumented
immigrant’s primary concern is that they will be deported or subjected to an immigration status
investigation, then they will not come forward and provide needed assistance and cooperation.
Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting the police would develop among legal immigrants as
well. Undoubtedly legal immigrants would avoid contact with the police for fear that they
themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration
Enforcement of federal immigration laws would be a burden that most major police agencies
would not be able to bear under current resource levels. [...] The
specific immigration status of any particular person can vary greatly and whether they are in
fact in violation of the complex federal immigration regulations would be very difficult if not
almost impossible for the average patrol officer to determine. At this time local police agencies
are ill equipped in terms of training, experience and resources to delve into the complicated
area of immigration enforcement.
For example, the Katy, Texas Police Department
participated in an immigration raid with federal agents in 1994. A total of 80 individuals who
were detained by the police were later determined to be either citizens or legal immigrants with
permission to be in the country. The Katy police department faced suits from these individuals
and eventually settled their claims out of court."
The Greenville News, a South Carolina daily newspaper, in a Dec. 29, 2006 editorial entitled "Local Immigration Enforcement," offered the following:
"Beaufort County [South Carolina] shouldn't have to check
whether businesses there are hiring illegal immigrants. No local
government should, and most probably don't want to be put in that
position. But Beaufort County passed an ordinance this week that
would let the county strip the business license from any company
that employs illegal immigrants. The law certainly is well-founded
-- Illegal immigrants are costing Americans jobs.
The problem is, enforcing immigration law is not a local government's
responsibility. The federal government should be ensuring that
businesses don't knowingly hire people who are not legally eligible for
employment. But the feds have failed. And that leaves it up to states,
counties and cities. If this problem is going to be fixed, Congress is
going to need to step in and pass real immigration reform. That reform
should have strictly enforced penalties for those who hire illegal
immigrants. Until then, places like Beaufort County have little choice
but to take matters into their own hands."