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 – 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.