The Political Economy of Immigration Enforcement: Conflict and Cooperation under Federalism

We study how local and federal responsibilities shape immigration enforcement outcomes. Tracking the movement of unlawfully present immigrants along the deportation pipeline, we propose a framework to decompose the variation in deportation rates between federal and local enforcement efforts, and the arrestee-pool composition. This allows us to recover local responses to changes in federal enforcement intensity, establishing that among urban counties, 80% exhibit strategic substitutabilities. Following a 2011 shift in federal enforcement priorities, local enforcement collaboration increased while alignment of local-federal preferences decreased. The federal level became very effective in directing its efforts toward counties where it expected higher collaboration.

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