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.