Criminalizing Immigrants and the Consequences of Mass Deportation

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian        is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian        is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

By Dr. Kevork N Abazajian

Science has much to provide policy makers regarding how to be the most effective in policy design and implementation. The social sciences, in particular, are relevant to many social policies. For example, at the University of California, Irvine, the Department of Criminology, Law and Society hosts the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections, which has the goal of “Putting science before politics to improve state correctional practices… [and] to provide [research] that helps corrections officials make policy decisions based on scientific evidence.”

The recent political demonization and framing of undocumented immigrants as criminals during the presidential campaign has been followed by actions by immigration enforcement. Unlike the previous administration’s focus on undocumented high-level felons for deportation, there are now home raids of undocumented individuals that have no criminal record. As New York Magazine reported, “Late last month, President Trump signed an executive order expanding the classifications for prioritized deportation to such a point that every undocumented immigrant in the country could be targeted.”

In this post, I want to address how these actions are counterproductive on two levels: they fail to make Americans safe on the large scale, and, more significantly, they destroy families..

A man is arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Feb. 7 during a targeted enforcement operation. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

A man is arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Feb. 7 during a targeted enforcement operation. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

On a broader scale,several scholars* in the social science community have done extensive research on the link between immigration and crime and have routinely found that immigrants are less prone to crime than are native-born Americans and that immigrant communities have lower crime rates than communities with fewer immigrants. A panel of immigration and crime scholars recently summarized these conclusions in an article for The Conversation which also appeared in Scientific American:

“For the last decade, we have been studying how immigration to an area impacts crime. Across our studies, one finding remains clear: Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence, all else being equal… We conducted a meta-analysis, meaning we systematically evaluated available research on the immigration-crime relationship in neighborhoods, cities and metropolitan areas across the U.S. We examined findings from more than 50 studies published between 1994 and 2014… Our analysis of the literature reveals that immigration has a weak crime-suppressing effect. In other words, more immigration equals less crime… The upshot? We find no evidence to indicate that immigration leads to more crime and it may, in fact, suppress it. [emphasis mine]”

That’s the societal-scale implication: Targeting immigrants to reduce crime is a misled policy that is not borne by the scientific evidence.

Then there are the horrifying, human-scale implications to deportation of peaceful, contributing members of our society. There has been an increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and deportations that the President has said are in line with keeping his campaign promise to deport all undocumented immigrants. These detainments and deportations include targeting peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people. The story of Guadalupe Garcia is particularly terrifying: she arrived in the U.S. as a child more than 20 years ago, has since had a family of her own, only to be deported away from them due to the new federal policies. Guadalupe Garcia’s deportation helps no one. There is now a state of fear in immigrant communities across America.

In the U.S. today, there are more than 9 million children whose parents are undocumented immigrants, and 16.6 million families with mixed status. Disrupting families is a human rights issue that clearly leads to immense emotional and behavioral harm, as well as severe negative economic impacts. A report by the Center for American Progress finds:

  • Deportations leave many U.S.-citizen children with unauthorized parents in foster care, “often for no other reason than the undocumented status of a parent,” at a cost of nearly $26,000 per year for each child.

  • Deportations “create a large number of single mothers struggling to make ends meet” after the deportations of their husbands.

  • “Children and their parents live in constant fear of separation” because they know deportations are occurring and fear that they could be next.

  • “Because of fears of deportation, children routinely conflate the police with immigration officials…These children—who are U.S. citizens—grow up afraid of the police.”

There are clear harmful impacts of a draconian deportation policy: there are impacts on the societal level, where immigrant communities are less crime prone, and on the personal level, where reports offer gut wrenching accounts of family disruption for no one’s benefit. Social scientists and community advocates need to be at the table to formulate policy that benefits our communities instead of harming them.


* Note of disclosure: Prof. Charis Kubrin, who is one of the authors of this piece, is also my spouse.

Protecting Americans: Travel Bans and the ACA

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine

Dr. Kevork N. Abazajian is an associate professor and member of the Executive Board of the Center for Cosmology at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of California, Irvine


Science has much to contribute to the formation of public policy that benefits us all. We have seen this in everything from regulations maintaining safe drinking water to ones that allow for safe aviation.

As scientists interested in effective policy, it is particularly disheartening to see the implementation of the ban on travel of nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations as a purported way to keep Americans safe. Since September 11, 2001, there have been 94 people killed in America due to jihadist terrorism. The attackers were all either American citizens or legal residents. Over half of the murders were victims of the Orlando night club massacre, where forty-nine people were killed at the hands of a citizen born in Long Island. None were committed by refugees. Such a ban, which is arguably based on racism and exclusion, clearly misses the mark in trying to protect Americans.

Of course, anything above zero in terrorist acts is unacceptable. The number of Americans killed by terrorist acts, about 6 per year, has to be put in context, however. The number of Americans killed by gun violence annually is nearly 12,000. Seven children and teens are killed by gun violence every day. The number of Americans killed in automobile accidents tops 35,000. Both gun laws and car safety policy cause these rates to be reduced. Certainly, the evidence shows that more can be done in those directions given the enormous risks involved.

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Meanwhile, there is a concerted effort now by Congress and the Trump administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). The outright repeal would force 20 million or more Americans to lose insurance coverage. Professors of Public Health who have studied the effect of insurance rates have found that one life is saved per 455 people insured per year. The repeal of ACA therefore translates to the deaths of over 43,000 Americans per year. The Public Health professors are experts, and there has been no substantive counter-analysis of this potential impact. Even if the analysis inaccurate by a factor of ten, the impact on the health and lives of Americans from the repeal of ACA is immense, leading to the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans per year.

As a society, we have limited resources and we need to put them where they are most effective. Science helps guide us to effective policies that can have the greatest impact, and this entails having more representation by those that understand scientific, evidence-based policies.

Two for One Executive Order No Bargain

By the 314 Action Blog Team

Donald Trump began his second week in office by signing off on an executive order mandating the repeal of two existing federal regulations for every new regulation passed by federal agencies.  Trump was surrounded by small business owners Monday morning as he signed off on the "Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs" order.   

While this move is  being touted as a means of stimulating small and large business growth, the imminent effects on departments that regulate the environment, health, and safety is highly troubling.  This administration has already shown a strong disregard for science through its stances on issues regarding climate change and vaccinations, and this vigorous push for deregulation endangers the fact based regulations designed to protect Americans by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The current president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell,  called the executive order “absurd”, adding that “If, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of  two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?” This is a dangerous precedent that extends to every federal agency.

Regulations from the EPA on factors  such as automobile fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are crucial to preserving the environment and curtailing the damages of global warming. Recent FDA requirements on nutrition facts labeling are essential in the fight against obesity and related health risks. These are just a couple of the agencies that rely heavily on ongoing research to direct the implementation of new regulations, and the overarching requirement to remove two current regulations is an attack on the scientific community and a reckless order that flies in the face of existing knowledge and proven facts.   

The current administration and the GOP have staunchly advocated for federal deregulation, and this move in particular is being touted as “the largest cut by far, in terms of regulation” in history by Trump. This executive order continues a consistent pattern of rhetoric and decisions by the Trump administration that undermines the importance of research in policy making.  

Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the cutting of regulations requires the same level of legal and financial analysis and review as proposing new regulations. Additionally, the new executive order  requires that the cost of new regulations be offset by existing rules that will be rescinded. These procedures in conjunction with Trump’s promise to repeal existing policies such as Obama’s Clean Power Plan offer a grim outlook for the health and safety of the country under this administration. The indiscriminate mandate to eliminate two existing rules in order to be able to utilize potentially groundbreaking  research is illogical and irresponsible.


Trump Touts National Security But Misses Big Picture

By the 314 Action Blog Team

The war on science has already begun for the Trump administration, and the battle being waged seems to not only focus on domestic entities like the EPA and National Park Service. Trump’s foreign policy, namely his immigration ban targeting Muslims and proposed border wall with Mexico, are just as detrimental to the scientific community and to global efforts to solve environmental problems like climate change, which the recently elected President famously called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.



It is disheartening to hear that scientists, in particular, from the seven affected countries are being dissuaded from coming to the United States and actively being denied access to travel to America. Leading scientists from Iran like Samira Asgari, who was intending to come to the USA to research genetic effects on tuberculosis, have now been left in limbo following the President’s executive order.

Unfortunately, it seems President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the detrimental effects of this ban both in regards to the global exchange of knowledge and, more generally, America’s ability to attract leading academics will severely impact our country’s role as a world scientific leader. Schools and institutions across the country are warning international students and scholars affiliated with them to stay in the country until the effects of this rushed policy can be determined.

Despite his claims that this policy will provide the nation with increased security, it misses the larger problem posed to both national and international security by issues such as climate change. By effectively limiting the international exchange of scientists and academics Trump sends a clear signal to the global community that the United States will let bigoted fear rhetoric override more pressing concerns.

Coming down the pipeline is Trump’s proposal to build a Mexican border wall, which will not only serve as a costly and ineffective means to solve illegal immigration. Scientists are reporting that the wall itself will prove detrimental to the environment. Not only will there be increased greenhouse gas emissions from building the wall, construction will block animal migration routes and alter the surrounding ecosystems.

Ultimately, the scope of the impact of Trump’s radical foreign policy frightens our international allies and proves a serious threat to scientific progress. As scientists and protesters continue to speak out against this Administration’s actions, hopefully will get the message and do an about face on these policies.