Image: The New Yorker
There were 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in 2014 according to the Pew Research Center. They made up 3.5% of the U.S. population and one-fourth of the US immigrant population. Since 2009, the population of undocumented immigrants has stabilized, meaning that the percentage of the US population that are undocumented immigrants has stayed the same (or very close to it). Therefore, the most important question in immigration policy today is what should the United States do with the undocumented immigrants already here.
Undocumented immigrants are problematic for various reasons. They often have to commit crimes like using a counterfeit driver’s license because they have no social security number. They also haven’t gone through the screenings that legal immigrants in our country have. Another problem is that employers could potentially take advantage of their vulnerability—they may be put in unsafe conditions and paid less than minimum wage, but they can’t report their employer to the authorities because they risk deportation. This is obviously a problem for the immigrants, but it also means documented immigrants and American citizens can’t compete for these jobs. Undocumented immigrants live in fear they will be deported which means they are less likely to work with the police and other authorities.
There are two solutions to this issue: deport all of these undocumented immigrants or give them a path to citizenship. Recently, the Trump administration has endorsed the idea of mass deportation. Marielena Hincapie, an immigration advocate, told NPR:
In my many years of practicing immigration law, I have not seen a mass deportation blueprint like this one. Trump is saying that everyone is now a priority. He is governing by fear, not by what’s best for the American people or for aspiring Americans.
As she points out, Trump’s new plan targets basically all undocumented immigrants, not just criminals. He has already looked at adding 15,000 officers to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and blocking federal funding from sanctuary cities.
Sixty percent of undocumented immigrants have been in the US for more than ten years, which gives reason to assume that they have become integrated into their community. In fact, one-third of illegal immigrants over age 15 live with a child who is a US citizen. CNN reported the story of Garcia de Rayos, an illegal immigrant with two American children, who was deported February 8, 2017. Her deportation sparked protests as her children spoke against it. She was checking in with ICE when she got deported. A few years before, she had been caught using a fake Social Security number and lost her case. Since she was not a priority to be deported, instead of deporting her, ICE just did check-ins. She went to seven meetings with ICE and followed all the instructions they gave her. There did not seem to be any reason to deport her but, as the lawyer of another woman in the same situation stated, “When you have a blanket deportation policy you don’t need to have specific reasons, you just say no.” Garcia De Rayos’s situation is a common one, and now that Trump is in charge, all of these people who weren’t in danger of being deported because they were not a priority are now in danger of being deported. Critics say this policy does more to rip families apart than to keep America safe. The government is supposed to work to make American’s lives better, but deporting parents of US citizens is working against that goal. These children, who are US citizens, may be put in the care of an older sibling, sent to an unsafe or impoverished country, or landed in foster care.
Some children were not born in the United States, but were brought here at a young age as undocumented immigrants by their parents. Obviously, they had not been the ones to decide that their family would move to the US, but they have grown up knowing the United States as their only home. DACA stands for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is an executive order signed by President Obama to grant undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children (dubbed “dreamers”) amnesty and work permits. Roughly 750,000 undocumented immigrants are protected under the program. These are people who were taken to the US before they turned 16. Some don’t even remember their native country. Even Trump has sympathy for their case; he has promised to keep DACA in place and says “it’s a very, very tough subject” because “you have some absolutely, incredible kids.” However, his word can’t be trusted. While he may be hesitant to undo the order due to fear of political backlash, he could just stop issuing work permits or deport people based on misdemeanors or find another way around the order. Kamal Essaheb from the National Immigration Law Center told CNN:
We cannot at this time offer a confident assessment of whether anyone—including those with DACA—are protected from enforcement.
Sadly, Trump definitely holds the power to deport the “dreamers” if he really desired to do so. This just seems cruel, especially since DACA only applies to law-abiding undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.
Logistically, a mass deportation just doesn’t make sense. The American Action Forum found removing all the undocumented immigrants in America would cost between $100 billion and $300 billion dollars, take 20 years, and shrink the GDP by $1.6 trillion. According to National Farm Workers Ministry, six out of ten farm workers are undocumented immigrants. If all those workers are deported, food prices in America might skyrocket as employers struggle to fill those positions and have to pay workers more. A shrinking GDP and higher food prices create difficulties for all Americans, and, remember, this is all to deport people who aren’t dangerous or causing problems.
Deportation is not as easy [or cheap] as it may sound. Some people are hard to deport. Only about half of the undocumented immigrants in America are from Mexico. 268,000 are from China, one of the twenty-three countries that do not cooperate with deportations, which means there is literally nowhere to deport these people. Deporting people from other countries like India, Korea or even El Salvador can be costly because they would have to be flown back to their countries of origin.
Now let’s consider the other solution, giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. This plan would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship and would probably include temporary amnesty as they go through the process. It would mean safety for the families currently in danger of being ripped apart and the “dreamers” and every other undocumented immigrant who now has their life here and hasn’t broken any major laws. A change in administration would no longer decide whether parents can stay with their children or whether someone is shipped off to a country they haven’t seen since they were five, and if there are fewer people too afraid of deportation to report their bosses, employers in America would have to comply with American safety and minimum wage laws. Money would still have to be spent on border control and removing dangerous criminals, but less would be spent on deporting people. Some people claim giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship would encourage more people to come to America illegally. There is no data to back up this claim and logically the possibility, after living in America illegally for years, that you might get amnesty and begin the process to become a citizen is a weak pull factor when compared to the other push and pull factors involved with illegal immigration. These people are leaving their countries to escape extreme poverty, violence and in some cases oppressive governments. They come to America to get a steady income to support their families and a safe place to live. Simply giving these people a path to citizenship seems to be the best option regarding most of the undocumented immigrant population in America. For now 11.1 million people’s lives hang in the balance while the Trump administration tries to decide what to do with them.