Book: “Policing Immigrants”

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Arizona State University criminology professor Scott Decker and Justice Studies professor emerita Marie Provine have co-authored a book that traces the transition of immigration enforcement from a traditionally federal power to a patchwork system of local policing that extends throughout the country’s interior. Decker and Provine will discuss their book, “Policing Immigrants.”

Ted Simons: The transition of immigration enforcement from a traditionally federal power to a patchwork system of local policing is the focus of a new book, "Policing Immigrants," local law enforcement on the front lines. And joining us now are two of the book's coauthors, ASU criminology professor Scott Decker and justice studies professor emerita Marie Provine. Good to have you here.

Scott Decker: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What are we talking about here?

Scott Decker: It wasn't always so. There was a battle between local and federal authorities over who would enforce immigration the 1800s. The Supreme Court largely decided it in favor of federal enforcement. And toward the end of the 20th century there, was a transition.

Ted Simons: Why did this transition happen?

Marie Provine: We think it occurred partly because there was more and more anxiety about immigration around the country. And the federal government just didn't have the resources. And so it experimented with what we call devolution, sending it downward. But localities didn't take anybody up on this until the never attack.

Ted Simons: That -- the 9/11 attack. That changed everything.

Marie Provine: It did.

Ted Simons: We're talking now, as your book points out, if you shift from federal to local, you shift from one big federal to a whole lot of little locals.

Marie Provine: That's right. It's a patchwork out there. It really is. And it has to be, because localities have such different needs and different interpretations of their own situation. If you're on the border and you're in El Paso, you have family relationships that cross the border. If you're in a town of meat packers, you don't want to lose your immigrant workers, even if they're unauthorized, because you're killing 30,000 cows every week. And they need to be turned into meat.

Ted Simons: So the patchwork involves some that resist, some that are over aggressive and in some between.

Scott Decker: And some that look the other way. One of the challenges we found when we surveyed police chiefs from large, small cities and sheriffs was that the larntlest number of -- largest number of cities had no policy. They had no guidance for their officers about which federal immigration laws to enforce and how to enforce them. So not only did you have a patchwork where one community could enforce the law differently than its neighbor, within the same department officers were enforcing the law differently.

Ted Simons: And I know you also found that one the same department or not, this is basically furthering one's own objectives very much involved here.

Marie Provine: Well, that's right. For some people it's kind of a head count sort of thing. But it was hard for chiefs and for that matter sheriffs and sheriff's departments to set really distinct policies if they didn't have the full support of their local city council. It really does expose them, for example, when Mesa had a policy that was restricting cooperation with the federal government, well, that's controversial.

Ted Simons: Indeed. The key -- I think you also wrote in your book, the key is the level of conservatism in voters, thus the elected officials move along those lines?

Scott Decker: And put pressure on local law enforcement to behave in ways consistent with that. The level of crime, the proximity to the border, none of those things made a difference in terms of whether or not more laws were enforced against immigrants. But the conservative voting public made a difference.

Marie Provine: We should say, though, that it's a fairly complicated thing. We did a lot of statistical analysis of this and what's really most interesting as Scott said are the things that aren't associated. We're pretty confident that crime rate, economic depression, and even having a lot of new immigrants in your community don't necessarily set off a conservative reaction. And on the political conservatism, there's a tendency there, but it's not overwhelming because there's so much variation.

Ted Simons: But that is surprising that the crime rate in the state of the Louisville economy is not as big a factor.

Marie Provine: It's not a factor. It doesn't correlate at all.

Ted Simons: Surprise you well?

Scott Decker: No, because we know there's a certain level of moral panic that arises about immigrants. And we know that crime and calling a segment of the population crime prone or criminal generates concern. It generates fears. And those are the kinds of things that get lost.

Ted Simons: The crime-fighting mission, just the -- what you're supposed to be doing out there regarding enforcing laws, how does the patchwork challenge that?

Scott Decker: Well, I think it makes it difficult for police officers to know what's expected of them. It also complicates the community policing role. And one chief told us, if I'm doing the federal government's job, who's doing the job I'm supposed to do? I serve local residents. If I'm answering to Washington, what about crimes in my community?

Marie Provine: Yeah, when you think about it, the main kind of way of thinking about law enforcement these days involves community policing, which means you want to get everybody that you can on your side in law enforcement. And that includes everybody who lives there. And so there's really -- community policing and aggressive enforcement of immigration law are kind off a collision course. And public safety is what the kind of victim of overaggressive enforcement is.

Ted Simons: Also seeing racial profiling, fear in the immigrant community.

Marie Provine: Prefectural stops.

Ted Simons: These sorts of things.

Marie Provine: Right.

Ted Simons: You mentioned research. What kind of research did you do for this?

Marie Provine: We had a wonderful time. We have the combination of Scott's a criminologist. I'm a political scientist and lawyer. We have a geographer. We have a specialist in urban affairs and great stats cities. So the -- statistician. So the four of us worked well together. We had three surveys, one has Scott mentioned, one small cities, one big cities. One of sheriffs. Surprisingly the results were similar and then we went into seven communities. We were looking for geographical diversity. We were looking for places that kind of represented the kind of differences we were finding in our surveys.

Ted Simons: How many years of study did this involve?

Scott Decker: At least eight.

Ted Simons: And over eight years, I'm guessing, things changed.

Scott Decker: They did. We saw it in some of our case studies. We saw it in people we stayed in touch with. Some of the chiefs that we had worked with and who did interviews with us were fired. in one of the communities the chief was clearly fired. He was property in to be a change agent. In large part we think he was hired because he spoke Spanish. And they wanted a chief that would reach out to the Hispanic community in this city. That didn't go well and within six months he was looking for his next job.

Ted Simons: My goodness.

Marie Provine: Yeah, it's very interesting now what's going to happen after this recent decision upholding the preliminary injunction and that case.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, what do we take from your book, there the study?

Marie Provine: We take that any kind of reform needs to involve both the local police as well as the federal level. The federal level has thrown out various policies just in the last 10 years. Three of them. And it's never really fully consulted with local police and sheriffs. And we need to do this from kind of a studied imperial perspective, where all voices are heard.

Ted Simons: All right. Congratulations on the book.

Marie Provine: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Scott Decker: Thank you.

Scott Decker: Arizona State University criminology Professor, Marie Provine: Arizona State University Justice Studies Professor Emerita

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