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A Multilayered Jurisdictional Patchwork: Immigration Federalism in the United States


  • This article is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. SES-0819082 and No. SES-0921202. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Monica W. Varsanyi, Department of Political Science, John Jay College/Graduate Center, CUNY, 445 W. 59th St., New York, NY 10019, USA. Telephone: (212) 237-8232; E-mail:


This article focuses on the immigration-related demands currently being placed on local police in the United States and the emergence of what we call a “multilayered jurisdictional patchwork” (MJP) of immigration enforcement. We report results from nationwide surveys of city police chiefs and county sheriffs and intensive fieldwork in three jurisdictions. The enforcement landscape we describe is complicated by the varying and overlapping responsibilities of sheriffs and city police, and by the tendency for sheriffs to maintain closer relationships with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities. We conclude by reflecting on the implications of the MJP—for immigrants, for their communities, and for the evolving relationship between levels of government in the federal system.