Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement Page: 2 of 35
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Enforcing Immigration Law:
The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the enforcement of our nation's
immigration laws has received a significant amount of attention. Some observers
contend that the federal government does not have adequate resources to enforce
immigration law and that state and local law enforcement entities should be utilized.
Several proposals introduced in the 109th Congress would enhance the role of state
and local officials in the enforcement of immigration law, including the Border
Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437);
the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2005 (H.R. 2092); Clear Law
Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2005 (H.R. 3137); Homeland
Security Enhancement Act of 2005 (S. 1362); Comprehensive Enforcement and
Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (S. 1438); Rewarding Employers that Abide by the
Law and Guaranteeing Uniform Enforcement to Stop Terrorism Act of 2005 (H.R.
3333); Scott Gardner Act (H.R. 3776); and the Enforcement First Immigration
Reform Act of 2005 (H.R. 3938). This proposed shift has prompted many to
question what role state and local law enforcement agencies should have in the
enforcement of immigration law, if any.
Congress defined our nation's immigration laws in the Immigration and
Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.), which contains both criminal and
civil enforcement measures. Historically, the authority for state and local law
enforcement officials to enforce immigration law has been construed to be limited
to the criminal provisions of the INA; by contrast, the enforcement of the civil
provisions, which includes apprehension and removal of deportable aliens, has
strictly been viewed as a federal responsibility, with states playing an incidental
supporting role. The legislative proposals that have been introduced, however, would
appear to expand the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in the civil
enforcement aspects of the INA.
Congress, through various amendments to the INA, has gradually broadened the
authority for state and local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law,
and some recent statutes have begun to carve out possible state roles in the
enforcement of civil matters. Indeed, several jurisdictions have signed agreements
(INA 287(g)) with the federal government to allow their respective state and local
law enforcement agencies to perform new, limited duties relating to immigration law
enforcement. Still, the enforcement of immigration by state and local officials has
sparked debate among many who question what the proper role of state and local law
enforcement officials should be in enforcing immigration law. For example, many
have expressed concern over proper training, finite resources at the local level,
possible civil rights violations, and the overall impact on communities. Some
localities, for example, even provide "sanctuary" for illegal aliens and will generally
promote policies that ensure such aliens will not be turned over to federal authorities.
This report examines some of the policy and legal issues that may accompany
the increasing role of state and local law officials in the enforcement of immigration
law. This report will be updated as warranted.
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Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement, report, January 27, 2006; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc806233/m1/2/: accessed December 12, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.