The Paradox of Law Enforcement in Immigrant Communities: Does Tough Immigration Enforcement Undermine Public Safety?

David S. Kirk, Andrew V. Papachristos, Jeffrey Fagan, Tom R. Tyler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Frustrated by federal inaction on immigration reform, several U.S. states in recent years have proposed or enacted laws designed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States and to facilitate their removal. An underappreciated implication of these laws is the potential alienation of immigrant communities-even law-abiding, cooperative individuals-from the criminal justice system. The ability of the criminal justice system to detect and sanction criminal behavior is dependent upon the cooperation of the general public, including acts such as the reporting of crime and identifying suspects. Cooperation is enhanced when local residents believe that laws are enforced fairly. In contrast, research reveals that cynicism of the police and the legal system undermines individuals' willingness to cooperate with the police and engage in the collective actions necessary to socially control crime. By implication, recent trends toward strict local enforcement of immigration laws may actually undercut public safety by creating a cynicism of the law in immigrant communities. Using data from a 2002 survey of New York City residents, this study explores the implications of perceived injustices perpetrated by the criminal justice system for resident willingness to cooperate with the police in immigrant communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-98
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012


  • cooperation
  • immigration
  • legal cynicism
  • legitimacy
  • procedural justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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