All Politics Is Local? County Sheriffs and Localized Policies of Immigration Enforcement

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(1) 142 –154
© 2016 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912916680035
With the increasing devolution of immigration policy to
local law enforcement, American county sheriffs provide
a new opportunity to understand the nature of local varia-
tion in both the creation of local policies (or formal rules)
and practices (or normal behavior) and the enactment of
federal and state policies. Our paper provides a broad
account of county sheriffs’ roles in immigration policy, as
sheriffs have a unique position as elected officials with
significant bureaucratic and policy-making responsibili-
ties.1 We detail the current state of county-level immigra-
tion policies and practices in the United States, an
important task given the limited prior scholarship on this
topic. We then utilize an original survey data set of sher-
iffs’ immigration attitudes and office policies and county
demographic information from more than five hundred
elected sheriffs nationwide to examine why we see varia-
tion in local immigration enforcement.
Our research demonstrates that sheriffs’ ideology and
personal characteristics, as well as the partisanship of
the county, shape their personal attitudes about immi-
grants. In turn, these attitudes about immigration play a
key role in influencing local enforcement decisions
around immigration. Sheriffs’ attitudes about immi-
grants and immigration are particularly important when
examining whether their office checks the immigration
status of victims and witnesses to crimes and those
stopped for traffic violations. Our research demonstrates
the variation that exists and the complexity of actors and
context involved in immigration policy decision mak-
ing, particularly at the local level. These findings high-
light that who we elect to office matters in policy making
at all levels of government.
The Politics of Immigration and
Local Law Enforcement
In the summer of 2014, Republican Sheriff Paul Babeu of
Arizona’s Pinal County sparked a series of local
680035PRQXXX10.1177/1065912916680035Political Research QuarterlyFarris and Holman
1Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA
2Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mirya R. Holman, Political Science, Tulane University, 6823 St.
Charles Avenue, Norman Mayer Building, Room 316, New Orleans,
LA 70118, USA.
All Politics Is Local? County Sheriffs
and Localized Policies of Immigration
Emily M. Farris1 and Mirya R. Holman2
Immigration enforcement and policy making has increasingly devolved to the local level in the United States. American
sheriffs present a unique opportunity to evaluate decisions made about immigration policies in the local context. In
dealing with immigration concerns in their counties, sheriffs act both within the confines of federal and state mandates
and as local policymakers. However, little research comprehensively assesses the role sheriffs play in immigration
policy making. Using data from an original, national survey of more than five hundred elected sheriffs in the United
States, we provide a broad account of sheriffs’ roles in immigration enforcement and policy making. Our research
demonstrates that sheriffs’ ideology and personal characteristics shape their personal attitudes about immigrants. In
turn, these attitudes play a key role in influencing local enforcement decisions. Sheriffs’ immigration attitudes relate
strongest to checks of the immigration status of witnesses and victims and those stopped for traffic violations or
arrested for non-violent crimes. Our results demonstrate the important role of the sheriff in understanding local
variation in immigration policy and the connection between the personal preferences of representatives and policy
making that can emerge across policy environments and levels of government.
immigration, immigrants, sheriffs, policy making, local, enforcement

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