BTC BRIEF: High Costs to Local Communities with Federal Immigration Enforcement

By Alexandra Forter Sirota, Tazra Mitchell & Kate Woomer-Deters
Budget & Tax Center and the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
July 2013

The RECLAIM NC ACT, or House Bill (HB) 786, being considered by the House is an immigration bill that establishes state authority to enforce federal immigration law. It creates expanded enforcement protocols for people suspected of being undocumented immigrants at a potentially high cost to local governments. It also allows for a restricted driver’s permit for undocumented immigrants, but with eligibility criteria and costs that will be nearly impossible for undocumented immigrants to meet.

The enforcement provisions in the bill will likely result in increased detentions and higher costs to local jails for three reasons. First, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) typically does not reimburse local jails or the state for costs associated with detaining immigrants at ICE’s request, before they are in ICE custody; they are even less likely to reimburse local jails for holds ICE does not request. Second, the bill could lead to an increase in the number of immigrants detained. Third, the bill presumes that immigrants are a flight risk, making it more difficult for them to obtain bail and likely lengthening their pretrial stay in local jails. These added costs will likely divert scarce taxpayer dollars away from public schools, local economic development, parks, clean water, and other investments made at the local level.

The bill also contains a provision providing a process by which undocumented immigrants can get a driver’s permit. Many in support of the bill point to the potential public safety benefits of such a provision. There would be definite public safety benefits to having more tested, insured and licensed drivers on the road. Such benefits, however, will be undermined by the “Arizona” provision providing for increased enforcement measures and cooperation between police and immigration authorities, which would likely make immigrants less likely to report crimes and cooperate with the police as has been demonstrated in Arizona. This brief outlines the potential drivers of local costs in the bill and shares experiences from other localities to show how these kinds of provisions can produce substantial added costs for local governments. It also highlights why the driver’s permit provision is unlikely to produce the desired public safety benefits.

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