Deportations: Beyond the Numbers

We hear the numbers a lot: 396,906 immigrants were deported last year. 392,862 the year before that. And almost 390,000 in 2009 as well. Yet seldom is it included in these news reports who, exactly, is being deported, and what circumstances the person is being forced to leave behind.

A poster from a May Day rally in Poughkeepsie, NY

One common assumption is that most of the immigrants who are being deported are felons who steal identities, cheat the government, physically endanger others, or get involved with drugs and other criminal activities. President Obama’s administration has certainly placed a rhetorical emphasis on removing these kinds of people from the country—and indeed, the number of deportations of immigrants convicted of felonies (e.g. murder, child abuse, possession of illegal drugs, etc.) has increased by 70 percent over the last four years. But that still only accounts for about half of all of the people who have been deported during Obama’s tenure.

As for the other half? These immigrants are often family members of U.S. citizens—parents, children, spouses, siblings—who have been unable to obtain legal permanent residency status due to the bureaucratic vortex that constitutes our immigration system.

One of these family members is Felipe Montes. Mr. Montes spent nine years in the United States raising two children with his wife before he was deported in 2010. His wife Marie had been pregnant with a third child when he was forced to return to Mexico, and the loss of his income and support meant that Marie would struggle to raise all of the kids on her own. Two weeks after their third child was born, the local child welfare department took thr children from Marie and put them in foster care. Now Mr. Montes may never see his children again.

The tragic situation of the Montes family is not an anomaly. ColorLines reported in December 2011 that during the first six months of 2011 the Obama administration deported 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children, and there are now 5,100 children of detained and deported parents trapped in foster care.

A paper published in 2011 in the Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare describes the tremendous hardship that this separation can entail:

The disruption of undocumented families, when parents are separated from their children, results in increased symptoms of mental health problems among children. This disruption is so traumatic that the fear of deportation itself results in emotional stress. Fear of arrests and trauma from the workplace raids themselves have profound impacts on children. After the Iowa raid [a May 2008 federal crackdown which resulted in the arrests of 389 immigrants], half of the school system’s students were absent from school, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.

At the time, the May 2008 raid had been the largest-ever crackdown on undocumented workers. Despite the clear damage it inflicted on the families and communities in Iowa, however, the Obama administration has gone egregiously further this year. A six-day operation in April conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nabbed 3,168 undocumented immigrants—with only about half (1,477) of those with felony convictions on their record. This policy will only continue to cause pain and hardship for families with mixed legal status, and must be reconsidered.

Additional collateral damage can be found in the industries of which these undocumented workers have been a part. To take one example, last summer, Alabama’s legislature followed an insidious legislative trend in the South by passing a bill that would criminalize unauthorized work in the state and empower the police to stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally. The law’s passage immediately led to a mass exodus of workers, both documented and undocumented, from the state, for fear of being harassed by local authorities. Many of the workers who fled had made significant contributions to the state’s agricultural economy. Now, a paper published this January by the University of Alabama estimates that the economic costs of the immigrant diaspora will be around 70,000-140,000 jobs, up to $250 million in state income and sales taxes, and up to $10.8 billion in Alabama GDP—a staggering loss.

It should be clear by now that the federal government’s wanton disregard for these immigrants who are affected by deportations is unconscionable. Our policymakers should look beyond the basic deportation figures, because if they bothered to parse the numbers and examine the consequences, they would find that current policy is severely detrimental not just to families, but to communities, industries, and the economy as well.

 Works Cited:

Androff, David K. et al. 2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. March 2011.

Addy, Samuel. “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the New Alabama Immigration Law.” Center for Business and Economic Research, The University of Alabama. January 2012.