Huyen Pham


Subfederal Immigration Regulation and the Trump Effect

Huyen Pham, Pham Hoang Van

The restrictive changes made by the Trump presidency on U.S. immigration policy have been widely reported: the significant increases in both interior and border enforcement, the travel ban prohibiting immigration from majority-Muslim countries, and the decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Beyond the traditional levers of federal immigration control, this administration has also moved aggressively to harness the enforcement power of local and state police to increase interior immigration enforcement. To that end, the administration has employed both voluntary measures (like signing 287(g) agreements deputizing local police to enforce immigration laws) and involuntary measures (threatening to defund jurisdictions with so-called “sanctuary” laws).

What has been the “Trump Effect” on subfederal governments’ immigration policies? We define the Trump Effect as the influence that Trump’s immigration policies have had on the immigration policies of states, cities, and counties. Have they fallen in line with the federal push for restrictive policies and increased enforcement, or have they resisted? Using our unique Immigrant Climate Index (ICI), we track the response of cities, counties, and states by analyzing the immigration-related laws they enacted in 2017—the first year of the Trump administration—and comparing it to previous years’ activity. Based on our data, we make several observations. First, subfederal governments have responded with surprising speed and in unprecedented numbers to enact laws that are almost uniformly pro-immigrant. In response to increased federal enforcement, these subfederal governments have enacted “sanctuary” laws limiting their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Most of these laws were enacted by cities and counties, which enacted more immigration regulations in this one year than they enacted during the previous twelve years combined (2005–16).

Second, in the context of historical ICI scores, these immigrant-protective laws helped to pull the national ICI score sharply upward. By assigning scores (positive or negative) to each subfederal immigration law, our ICI has tracked the climate for immigrants on a state-by-state basis and identified distinct phases in subfederal immigration regulation since 2005. Though the national ICI score (where individual state scores are added together, through time) remains highly negative, we observe a distinct Trump effect in 2017: Immigrant-protective laws enacted by certain jurisdictions are creating more positive climates for immigrants in those jurisdictions.

Finally, the nature of governmental sanctuary in 2017 was distinctly more diverse than the sanctuary we have seen in decades past. In 2017, big urban cities were not the most active sanctuary cities, as was the case in past years; rather, medium-sized cities and suburbs with populations under 100,000 prevailed. Though most of these smaller jurisdictions voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, a surprising number voted for Trump. Moreover, new sanctuary entities have emerged—including public school districts, public universities, and even mass transit authorities—which have limited their own cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. This diversity in government sanctuary reflects another aspect of the Trump Effect: how harsh immigration enforcement policies under this administration have made immigration issues much more important to a wider range of communities and to a larger range of policy areas.