Friday, July 19, 2019
Earlier this week, I was interviewed on Colorado Public Radio's Colorado Matters for a historical perspective on ICE raids President Trump announced would be carried out over the course of 10 days in 10 cities. Noting that the raids had not yet materialized, CPR host Ryan Warner postulated that the real purpose of the ICE raids might be "self-deportation" and that, if it worked, it would be "efficient and effective." Does history suggest that self-deportation is, in fact, efficient and effective?
On air, I suggested that whether self-deportation would work depended on what you assume the reason is that people migrate. Many of the claims that self-deportation could be an efficient, effective were based on untested assumptions rather than empirical evidence.
If the assumption is that unauthorized migration is in search of jobs, the self-deportation theory rests on the crude logic that drying up the supply of jobs will dry up demand. As Trump advisor Kris Kobach has explained on Fox News: “The jobs are going to dry up, the welfare benefits are going to dry up, and a lot of people who may not be criminal aliens may decide, hey, it’s getting hard to disobey federal law, and may leave on their own.” Mark Krikorian, executive director of Center for Immigration Studies, has espoused similar ideas. Sometimes called the “attrition through enforcement” or “immiseration” approach to immigration control, the logic is to make life so difficult for immigrants to find work that they give up and go home.
In a 2014 LA Times op-ed, sociologist Wayne Cornelius explained his research as it relates to labor and employment. His research team asked hundreds of immigrants working illegally in California how they obtained their most recent U.S. job. More than three out of five reported that their employer probably knew, or knew for sure, that they were not authorized to work in the United States. Based on this research, he concluded that "Absent a significant increase in worksite investigations and criminal prosecutions, such employers will not change their hiring practices. Mass self-deportation is destined to remain a fantasy of immigration hawks. Turning the U.S. into a police state to get rid of a large chunk of the labor force that most citizens consider indispensable is not politically sustainable, let alone economically sensible."
He further noted that the last time large numbers of Mexicans in the U.S. repatriated themselves was during the Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1936, at least 500,000 Mexican workers — by some estimates as many as 2 million — returned to their homeland. Although some were forced out by federal and local authorities, the majority returned to Mexico of their own accord, paying their own way back. The Depression had wiped out their jobs, and scapegoating of immigrants by the Hoover administration had created a hostile environment. Similarly, migration across the U.S.-Mexico border declined between 2005-2012 but presumably due to economic circumstances as opposed to harsher enforcement.
The same is even more true for asylum-seekers fleeing violence and political persecution to find a safe-haven in the United States. People leaving behind dire circumstances will not voluntarily return to them merely because you inflict cruelty and misery upon them. As Bea Bischoff says in Slate:
"The [big] problem for attrition through enforcement is that asylum-seekers are not a pest that can be eliminated with more violence. Asylum-seekers are leaving their home countries because they have no choice, because they are desperate for a chance, no matter how small, of safety. So long as human misery and oppression exist, so will asylum-seekers arriving at our doorstep. "
With knowledge that self-deportation does not work, why does the administration continue to try? Messaging. Messaging to immigrants, messaging to sanctuary cities, messaging to Trump supporters who disfavor immigrants. As an Atlantic cover story said a while back: "Once you understand that self-deportation is the administration’s guiding theory, you can see why immigration hawks might take satisfaction in supposed policy defeats. Even if putative fiascoes such as the initial Muslim ban and family separations at the border fail in court or are ultimately reversed, they succeed in fomenting an atmosphere of fear and worry among immigrants. The theatrics are, in effect, the policy." And yet, whether the political strategy will play-out in the current spate of self-deportation policies is up for grabs. Cornelius concludes his op-ed with the following political analysis, which I quote in conclusion as well: "Pushing self-deportation is a tacit acknowledgement that carrying out aggressive sweeps to remove millions of immigrants who entered the country illegally is not politically realistic."
UPDATE: For more nuanced analysis of the relationship between self-deportation and the state-sanctioned deportration regime, see K-Sue Park's thought-provoking article in the Harvard Law Review, previously featured on Immigrationprof blog.