Why not rid the United States of criminal noncitizens and the disorder they cause? Because, scholars urge, immigrants reduce crime rates, deporting noncitizens with criminal convictions costs far more than it is worth, and discarding immigrants when they become inconvenient is wrong. Despite the force of these responses, reform efforts have made little headway. Crime-based deportation appears entrenched. Can it be transformed, rather than modified at the margins?
Transformation is possible, but only if crime-based deportation is reenvisioned as the prerogative of local governments. National transformation, this Article shows, is a dead end. When the problem of immigrant crime is digested at the national level, under the rubric of “the national interest”—where noncitizen interests do not count by definition—there are numerous “rational” reasons why a self- interested citizenry would want to deport noncitizens, even for minor crimes. Additionally, whatever rational reasons exist are exaggerated by the national media, which gives the rare violent crime committed by an immigrant outsized national attention. The danger posed by this distorted media reality was highlighted by Donald Trump throughout his campaign for president. Trump’s establishment of an office to publicize crimes committed by deportable noncitizens will make the problem more acute.
Local governments, by contrast, can be more concrete, flexible, and pragmatic; they are apt to think in terms of residents and community, rather than citizen versus alien. Local residents think about neighbors, classmates, and fellow churchgoers, and the economic and social contributions of noncitizens who run afoul of the law loom larger in the local calculus than the national one. Were local governments granted responsibility for crime-based deportation, the humanity, value, and membership of immigrants who commit crimes would be more likely to enter the conversation about appropriate responses, helping to transform crime-based deportation.