Please Etch-A-Sketch Away the Self-Deportation Myth

Undocumented immigrants protest Alabama's harsh new immigration law (Photo: Dreamactivist)

This is not what self-deportation looks like:Undocumented immigrants protest Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56. (Photo: DreamActivist)

Mitt Romney revealed how he would address the issue of 11 million unauthorized immigrants during a Republican primary debate earlier this year:

“The answer is self-deportation, which is that people decide that they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” the presumptive GOP presidential candidate said.

The strategy is also known as “attrition through enforcement,” which anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA describes as the “enforcement of all the laws already on the books” at all levels of government to “make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.”

Proponents of the approach in Alabama assert that their tough immigration law has already led to the self-deportation of many undocumented immigrants. They present the state’s falling unemployment rate as evidence of this trend.

“If you compare our unemployment rate drop to the region, our drop was much more quick,” State Sen. Scott Beason, a sponsor of Alabama’s HB 56, said. “I have been asking for months for the people who say [the law] had nothing to do with it, to explain to me what did it. Why are we so much faster, and why did it start in October?”

So does “attrition by enforcement” truly work?

new report by the Immigration Policy Center claims it does not. Dr. Alexandra Filindra, author of the report, titled The Myth of Self-Deportation, says the problem with the self-deportation theory rests in the assumption that immigrants will make an economic decision to leave.  She doesn’t buy the idea that undocumented immigrants will leave voluntarily rather than risk getting arrested, detained, and eventually deported.

Filindra counters this theory with preliminary evidence from studies conducted in states where draconian immigration laws have been passed showing that the immigrant population has largely remained in place.

Many economists say the presumed correlation between HB 56 and Alabama’s unemployment rate is faulty. Rather, they contend the fall in the state’s unemployment numbers is a result of people dropping out of the workforce while job creation remains more or less flat.

“The proponents of the immigration law really have no solid, defendable, reasonable evidence other than the desire to link those two together,” Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University Montgomery, told the Montgomery Adviser.

Ahmad Ijaz, an economist with the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, added that “it’s mostly because as the jobs are hard to get during the recession, a lot of people give up on looking for a job.”

Juan Pedroza, whose research is cited by Filindra, writes that “it’s tough to tell whether (and how many) immigrants have left a community if you are looking right after a state passes a law. It can take years of evidence to test claims of a mass exodus.”

Pedroza also mentions an important variable in any undocumented immigrant’s equation: his family. He writes, “immigrant families with school-age children have local roots. Parents have invested a great deal in their children’s future by settling down and enrolling their children in school. These families rank among the least likely to flee for good.” In other words, jobs aren’t the only incentive to remaining in a locale.

So, as presidential candidate Romney moves to the center on immigration and shakes his Etch-A-Sketch, he might as well erase his preferred method for dealing with our unauthorized neighbors. May I humbly suggest a reasonable and fair solution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants?  A majority of Americans — including Republicans — favor a strategy that includes both enforcement and a path to citizenship.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, May 4, 2012.

Can State Immigration Laws Be Rolled Back?

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56

Opponents of Alabama law HB 56.

Alabama passed one of the most severe and stringent immigration laws in the nation last June. It requires public schools to check students’ immigration status, mandates that immigrants carry papers at all times, criminalizes granting rides or renting to undocumented immigrants, prohibits courts from enforcing contracts with those immigrants, and makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to transact business with the government. HB 56 also instructs law enforcement officials to demand papers from anyone they stop and suspect to be in the country illegally.

The bill has spurred lawsuits from religious leaders, the Obama administration, and civil rights organizations. The latest courtroom development Friday had the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issuing an injunctionwhich temporarily blocks parts of HB 56.

So public school teachers and administrators do not have to check their wards’ immigration status and immigrants will not be charged for walking without sufficient identification—for now. Police officers can still ask for documentation, courts are still barred from enforcing contracts made with unauthorized immigrants, and these immigrants can be charged with a felony for doing business with the state.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, a University of Alabama professor and expert on Latino and Labor issues, believes that the remaining provisions are problematic. He said people “can get profiled and pulled over for almost anything.”

He is troubled most by the contracts provision. “Any contract between an undocumented immigrant and anyone else is automatically void and unenforceable. If you sign a rental agreement it is void. If you sign a loan agreement, a mortgage, a title loan, or an employee contract, they are all void and unenforceable,” he said.

Since the law bars any public office from conducting business with undocumented immigrants, it will be difficult for them to get basic services. “This means immigrants can’t get tags for their cars. Some local governments are also interpreting this as a prohibition to hook up water, sewer, or electricity service for immigrants,” said  Innis-Jiménez.

What can be done to counter Alabama’s immigration law other than going to court?

Some immigrant advocates have called for boycotts. A consortium of Spanish-language radio stations instigated a one-day protest last Wednesday to prove that Latinos are crucial to Alabama’s economy.  A Facebook pagecalled on Latinos to unite and “bring Alabama economy down (sic).” Reports indicate the one-day protest led some poultry plants and businesses to close but only had minimal economic impact.

Even if opponents of HB 56 are able to muster a protracted boycott of the state, it is highly unlikely that the law will be knocked down completely. Despite concerted action against Arizona’s controversial immigration law which cost the state its reputation and hundreds of millions in lost revenue, the law still stands, albeit with a partial injunction, as it winds its way to the Supreme Court.

Its also unclear if boycotts have staying power. The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group, called off the nationwide protest last month and Arizona was recently chosen by NFL owners to host Super Bowl XLIX.

Innis-Jiménez thinks Alabama’s harsh law will be seriously challenged only when non-immigrant Alabamans feel burdened by HB 56. They are the ones, not the small number of Latinos in Alabama, who can pressure elected officials to change course and possibly even repeal the law.

He gave the example of Alabama’s business and agricultural communities, which for the most part remained silent while the legislators were crafting the legislation. These interests are only now becoming vocal opponents, as they see their bottom lines getting slashed by the law which has scared Latino laborers—authorized and unauthorized—out of the state.

Ordinary citizens are also starting to be inconvenienced. In the most populous county in the state, residents are suffering longer than usual queues at courthouses due to HB 56 and budget cuts. Budget shortfalls have resulted in the closing of courthouses, just at a time when many more residents must flock to them, required to verify residency to buy or renew their driver’s licenses or car tags.

Alabama’s experience is not unique. Other states, like Arizona and Georgia, that passed harsh immigration laws inadvertently inflicted externalities upon their non-immigrant residents.

Innis-Jiménez predicts that eventually, non-immigrants in Alabama will witness the negative fallout of this law. A decrease in the number of public school students for instance, will lead to decreased federal funding. Multinational corporations that value diversity and employ immigrants will think twice before setting shop in states like Alabama.

Change will occur in Alabama, “not out of concern for human rights, but out of inconvenience,”  said Innis-Jiménez.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 20, 2011 and WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, “New Allies in Battle Against Controversial Alabama Law.”

Reasonable State Responses to Immigration

dream act activist

While federal legislation stalls, some states are passing their own DREAM Acts. (Photo: dreamactivist/flickr)

Most of us have been transfixed by Alabama’s immigration law which surpasses all other state laws in its harshness and stringency.

The Department of Justice asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to stop enforcement of Alabama’s HB 56, concerned that it could lead to racial discrimination. Advocacy groups also filed a separate appeal, citing the law’s immediate aftermath.

State immigration bills such as those passed in Alabama, Georgia and Arizona negatively impact not only immigrants and their families but society in general. They have wide-ranging externalities including lost productivity and revenues. They also have long-term implications for the well-being of our nation.

Fortunately, there are some states bucking the trend and providing more rational, productive and humane solutions to our broken immigration system.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education, encouraged by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, approved the state’s version of the DREAM Act which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition beginning September 2012. Students without papers must show that they graduated from a Rhode Island high school which they attended for at least three years or received a GED certificate from the state. They must also sign an affidavit promising that they will pursue U.S. citizenship as soon as possible.

Last weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the second half of his state’s DREAM Act. The first half, enacted in July, sanctioned private scholarships and loans for undocumented college students. These students, with the passage of the second bill, can now pay in-state tuition rates and apply for state aid.

The state DREAM Acts of Rhode Island and California, like other state versions of the stalled federal initiative to improve the prospects of young undocumented immigrants, does not include a path to citizenship. But they do allow motivated and able young people—in whom states have already invested public education—to obtain a college degree, earn better wages, pay taxes, contribute to the economy and give back to society.

Last Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring state agencies to make vital forms and instructions available in the six most common non-English languages spoken in the state. State agencies including the Office of Children & Family Services, Corrections, the health department, motor vehicles and welfare agencies will now have to provide free interpretation and translation services to assist the 13 percent of New Yorkers who do not speak English as their primary language. Cuomo argued that lawsuits and legislation have failed to address the problem and that access to state services can be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.

Finally, last week, the city commissioners of Dayton, Ohio voted to turn their city into an “immigrant friendly” destination with the explicit goal of replenishing the city’s shrinking immigrant community. The “Welcome Dayton” program seeks to reduce the barriers to immigrants who want to open new businesses and thereby spur investment in immigrant neighborhoods. The initiative aims to help immigrants by providing adults with ESL and literacy courses; actively involving local youth in community building; and encouraging cross-cultural events among Dayton’s cultural and arts organizations.

In California, Rhode Island, New York and Dayton, Ohio, rather than marginalizing immigrants and treating them as scapegoats for our difficult times, government is finding ways to integrate them. These state and city leaders see their immigrant populations as economically integral and as contributing members of society. They acknowledge that immigrants are crucial to our nation’s vitality and future.

One hopes that other states will be less reactionary—ala Alabama—and follow such reasonable responses to immigration.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 12, 2011.

Alabama’s Immigration Law Fails Our Future

A classroom in Birmingham, AL
A classroom in Birmingham, AL. (Photo: Terry McCombs/flickr)

Last Friday, close to 2,000 Latino students in Alabama didn’t show up at school. That is roughly five percent of the Latino children in the school system. Their parents kept their children away out of fear – twenty-four hours earlier, Alabama had begun asking students for papers.

The state passed what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the nation in June but its implementation was delayed until a federal judge ruled on lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders. Last Wednesday, the judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, upheld several parts of the statute, including the one that prompted parents to keep their children at home and some to even leave the state.

This law mandates that public schools check birth certificates when a child enrolls for the first time. If a birth certificate is not presented, parents or guardians have up to 30 days to submit other documentation or sign an affidavit about the citizenship or immigration status of the student. Otherwise, the children are counted as undocumented.

The law does not require school officials to submit names of undocumented students to immigration authorities, but the fear among immigrant families in the state—many are a mix of individuals with and without papers—is understandable. The law’s passage indicates that the loud anti-immigrant rhetoric in Alabama has been codified.

Such laws, and the reaction to them, will keep many children of immigrants – native and foreign-born alike – from their constitutional right to an education. This will have serious implications not only for their future but for our nation’s future.

Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of our population. They account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family–the majority Latino.

The number of Latino children in our public schools has been steadily increasing. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that at the turn of the century, 16 percent of all children in the school system were Latino. A decade later, 22 percent of all students are Latino. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics projects that by mid-century, four out of ten children will be Latino, up from two out of ten today.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications. In less than a decade, when baby boomers reach retirement age, the current cohort of immigrant youth will comprise a large proportion of the workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting our aging population and maintaining America’s place in a fast-changing global order.

For this reason–among other, moral responsibilities–it is imperative that we provide quality education for Latino children and other children of immigrants to prepare them for our shared future.

Current education statistics indicate that we are not doing a good job.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports dismal information. American schools are resegregating. Seventy eight percent of Latino students are in predominantly minority schools. Eight in ten Latino public school students in grades four, eight and 12 are reading or doing math below grade level. Latino students are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. Thirty percent of Latino high school students attend the more than 1,600 “dropout factories” across the country. Only six in ten Latinos finish high school.

Now state anti-immigration laws are making it worse for these immigrant children. And ultimately, the rest of us.

Since the nineteenth century, public schools have been integral to the social, political and economic integration of immigrants. Through public education, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society.

A good education can give immigrant children the foundation necessary for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn will uplift the lives of these children and their families, economically and socially.

Unfortunately, the current trends in public education, exacerbated by reactionary immigration policies like the new Alabama law, will result in an underclass of poorly educated Americans who are expected to bear the rest of us on their shoulders.

We should be encouraging immigrants and their children to attend school, not scaring them away from getting an education.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 6, 2011.

Alabama’s Immigration Law – Denying the American Dream

(Photo: lndhslf72/flickr)


Alabama’s draconian immigration law, HB56, was to have taken effect today. But U.S. Federal Judge Sharon L. Blackburn delayed the law’s implementation Monday “to adequately address the numerous challenges.” Her injunction remains in effect until September 29 “or until the court enters its ruling, whichever comes first.”

Blackburn had heard arguments for and against the law last week, a result of numerous lawsuits collectively launched by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders seeking to block the new law and decided that she needed more time to consider the case. And well she should.

This is Alabama’s more sinister version of Arizona’s reactionary SB 1070. The New York Times Editors have called it “The Nation’s Cruelest Immigration Law,” and it brings us back to Jim Crow days when African Americans were treated “separate but equal.”  Jim Crow laws legitimized the segregation of races in public spaces such as schools and transportation.

HB56, if allowed to stand, would segregate Latinos and other immigrants, with or without documents. The law would require Alabama public school teachers and administrators to check students’ immigration status, criminalize anyone giving a ride or renting to an unauthorized immigrant, require employers to use E-Verify to check potential employees’ status, and instruct law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect the person of being undocumented.

We should lament the fact that 48 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that we are still marginalizing people, that we are “still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Our nation’s history has shown our tendency during hard times to scapegoat and segregate the immigrant and “foreign” native – the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese – through exclusionary laws or literally though internment camps.

Now it’s the Latino immigrant community’s turn to suffer our proclivity to demonize the newcomer and the “alien.”

When will we learn from our history? America is a country made great and strong by immigrants who, at first arrival, have all been treated like pariahs but nonetheless are welcomed to do back-breaking and menial work harvesting our crops, building our infrastructure, producing our goods, and caring for our children and households.

When will we learn to look to the future and realize that immigrants keep America strong and vibrant?

It is time to release ourselves from “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” and share the dream with all those, who like our forebears, have come to work, improve their lot and help build the nation.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 1, 2011.

As State Immigration Laws Pass, Immigrant-Serving Nonprofits Scramble

July 14, 2011; Source: ReutersAlabama’s new immigration law does not take effect until September 1, but farms and businesses that rely heavily on immigrant labor and community-based organizations that have newcomers’ welfare in mind are reporting that immigrants are fast vacating the state. Once the statute takes effect, it will be a crime to employ, transport, harbor or rent property to undocumented immigrants in Alabama. Public school teachers will also be required to determine the immigration status of children under their care.

The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) has been inundated by requests for legal assistance from both authorized and unauthorized immigrants, including parents who are considering returning to their native countries and leaving native-born children in the U.S. Caitlin Sandley, HICA’s lead organizer, told Reuters, “Regardless of immigrant status, they are concerned about the law.” The nonprofit has also seen a surge in donations in June.

Church leaders have expressed concern about the new law. Mike Shaw, president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, complained that the new ordinance makes it next to impossible for congregations to fulfill their mission. Parishioners and clergy work closely with immigrants, including those who are undocumented, often giving them rides to Sunday school, Bible study, and other programs.

As Alabama and other states pass their own immigration bills, immigrant communities will need help in dealing with the additional burden imposed by unreasonable and hard-line measures. Immigrant-serving community-based organizations will be there to aid in whatever way they can.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 18, 2011.

Georgia’s Immigration Law Hurts Farms and the State Economy

Georgia’s draconian immigration law took effect Friday and it is now a felony in the state to present false documents when applying for a job.

Parts of the law were blocked by a U.S. district judge last week–but not all.

The new measure, like those passed in Arizona as well as Utah, North Carolina, Indiana, Alabama and South Carolina, primarily seeks to stanch what lawmakers see as the biggest immigration threat facing the nation, unauthorized immigrants. The problem with these policies is that they were crafted by legislators wearing such huge blinders that they and the constituencies who spurred them on failed to consider the implications.

Georgia farmers, for one, are already feeling the adverse effect of the newly minted law. CBS reports many Latino farmworkers are staying away, fearful of raids and crackdowns. The owner of a family-owned blueberry farm laments the loss of twenty acres worth of fruit that will rot away unpicked and cost him $200,000. He is also worrying about 600 acres of grapes that will be ready for harvest next month.

It’s clear the revenue loss at farms and other businesses that depend on immigrant labor will negatively impact Georgia’s economy and other states that tell undocumented immigrants to stay away. These policies will affect the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens who have allowed their fears about growing immigrant populations in their midst to cloud better judgment.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal does not worry about the loss of immigrant labor. He proposes that ex-convicts fill the jobs abandoned by Latino laborers. Farmers have not embraced Deal’s solution, however. “Let them in the governor’s mansion to be cooks and I’ll let them on my farm. I want my family to be as safe as the governor’s,” sixth-generation farmer Gary Paulk told Time.

Georgians would have been better served by their governor and lawmakers had they not honed in solely on undocumented immigrants with the intent of driving them out. These policymakers could have taken a broader view and carefully accounted for the economic implications of enacting such measures. Better still, they could have left it to the U.S. government to sort out the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 7, 2011.

Where Immigration Laws are Made Today – State Capitols and Federal Courts

One by one, states have been enacting their own immigration laws, a response to the lack of leadership and political will in Washington to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Now we’re starting to see a double-edged trend.

In Arizona, Utah, North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama and most recently South Carolina measures have been enacted which focus on what lawmakers see as an intractable problem, undocumented immigration in those states. In turn, federal courts have scrutinized these new measures and deemed parts of them untenable.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker blocked parts of Indiana’s new law Friday, reiterating that immigration is a federal matter. She also singled out two specific provisions in the law that “have proven to be seriously flawed and generally unsuccessful.” One has wording that would allow the arrest of anyone who has had any notice of action filed by immigration authorities, which could mean anyone applying to be in the country for any reason. The other is a measure that makes it illegal for immigrants to use identification cards issued by consulates.

Judge Thomas Thrash, also a federal judge, stopped parts of Georgia’s law on Monday which authorizes local authorities to check the immigration status of suspects who don’t produce proper identification and to detain undocumented immigrants. He also granted a request from civil rights groups to block provisions that penalize people who knowingly transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.

Indiana and Georgia’s stringent new laws join those of Arizona and Utah, key elements of which have been blocked by federal courts. I foresee other state immigration measures being challenged and stalled as well.

South Carolina legislators approved their own bill last week and Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed it into law. But the American Civil Liberties Union plans to contest it, just as it has challenged immigration statutes in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The Palmetto State’s newly minted law should get to a federal judge shortly, who will most likely find fault with it.

This cycle will no doubt continue. As more states pursue their own immigration fixes, they’ll be met by court challenges, followed by injunctions. Then states will file appeals, on and on until Congress and the administration work together successfully to reform the system. Unfortunately the political reality guarantees that this will not happen anytime soon. Immigration is such a hot button issue, with little agreement on how it should be tackled, that our elected officials are more than happy to punt straight through 2012. In the meantime the federal courts will be a battle ground pitting states against civil rights groups, while many immigrants and their families continue to live in fear and uncertainty.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, June 30, 2011. Re-posted on NYC Media Alliance, July 7, 2011.