The goal of reducing crime has been cited as one justification for policies that increase the government’s ability to deport immigrants. But there are different — and conflicting — ways in which increasing deportations could impact crime. If immigrants targeted for deportation are more likely to be criminals, for instance, then deporting them could reduce local crime. Alternatively, if an increased emphasis on immigrant deportations ties up police resources that could be deployed more effectively, then such a policy could actually result in increases in crime rates. The Secure Communities program, which led to a large increase in deportations in the U.S. between 2008 and 2014, offers an opportunity to study the impact of increased deportations on local crime and police effectiveness.
There are different — and conflicting — ways in which increasing deportations could impact crime.
Between its introduction in 2008 and temporary suspension in 2014, the Secure Communities program led to over 450,000 deportations. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security launched Secure Communities as a tool to engage the resources of local police in federal immigration enforcement efforts by screening anyone booked into jail, no matter the reason, for immigration violations. Prior to this program, immigration authorities and local law enforcement would collaborate on a case-by-case basis and police only checked the immigration status of a small fraction of arrested persons. Under Secure Communities, police had to check the fingerprints and bio-metric information of any arrested person against an immigration database. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal immigration enforcement agency, could take custody of any person found to have violated immigration law, have local authorities hold them for an additional 48 hours, and potentially begin deportation proceedings. Non-citizens can be deported for a variety of reasons. For a person legally present in the country, felony convictions can result in deportation. For undocumented immigrants, even minor offenses can trigger deportations, as can an arrest resulting in no charges or no criminal conviction.