To Deport or Not to Deport

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Twenty-four years ago, in order to escape poverty and violence, Nury Chavarria left Guatemala and crossed the border into the United States without a visa.[1] Since then she has lived and worked and raised four children in Norwalk, Connecticut.

But on July 19, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) ordered her deported back to Guatemala.[2]  Why?  Because she is an undocumented immigrant and President Trump maintains undocumented immigrants are responsible for an increase in the murder rate and violent crimes and a decrease in the material standard of living of middle and lower-class citizens.

However, it is not true that the murder rate has increased [3]

“innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term.” [4]

Furthermore, as we shall see below, undocumented immigrants are not responsible for the fact that middle and lower-class individuals and families have suffered a decrease in their material standard of living. But first let’s deal with the argument that undocumented immigrants should be deported because they are here illegally.

Clearly when Ms. Chavarria and other migrants crossed into our country without visas they became “illegal” immigrants.  But before you condemn them for their actions you might think about what you would have done if you were in their shoes.[5]

Then, too, you might consider just how difficult it is for poor, working class individuals fleeing violence and poverty to obtain green cards that allow them to enter and stay in the United States as permanent residents.[6]  And consider also that, as Anatole France put it: “The law in its majestic equality forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” Or recall that Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in 1955.

Or following the lead of John Rawls, you might reflect on the rules and enforcement mechanisms you would want to govern your world if when you woke up you weren’t sure whether you were an undocumented immigrant or a citizen.[7]  Or consider the ethical arguments for open borders in the article on immigration in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.[8]  Or view Harvard Philosopher Michael Sandel’s discussion of the topic.[9]  Or read Seyla Benhabib’s, the Eugene Meyer professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University’s, essay on The Morality of Migration.[10]

The point is: we want our laws and the mechanisms we use to enforce them to reflect the enlightenment values embodied in our founding documents.[11]  So, ask yourselves if law enforcement officials who would force Nury Chavarria to return to Guatemala reflect those values.[12]

Now let’s consider issues related to the economics of illegal immigration.  Economics at its heart is about cost/benefit analysis.  So, economists ask whether the cost of illegal immigrants in the U.S. outweighs the benefit they provide from the point of view of the country as a whole or low skilled workers or highly skilled workers or business women and men or the country the immigrants left or the world.   And their answers are: the benefit of illegal immigration far outweighs the cost for: the country as a whole, highly skilled workers, business owners and the world. But for a few low skilled workers and some municipalities the cost slightly outweighs the benefit.[13]

In summary, “illegal” immigration is not the problem it is trumped up to be (pun intended).[14]  And, for President Trump to suggest illegal immigrants are in any way responsible for an increase in violent crime or a decrease in our collective welfare is worse than nonsense.  It is reprehensible scapegoating.


[1] Decades of violence and poverty characterized Guatemala after the U.S. engineered a coup d’état that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz, its democratically elected president, in 1954. Had Arbenz remained in power and his reforms implemented they would have eliminated “the conditions that produced the violence of the 1960s and 1970s….” and the military repression and “downward-turning economy” of the1980s according to one student of those events, Jerry L. Weaver, in Latin American Politics and Development, edited by Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline, Westview Press, 1985.

[2] On July 26 Ms. Chavarria was granted permission to stay in the country while her lawyers continue to fight for her right to remain here permanently.

[3] As Trump put it when he was running for President, for instance, undocumented immigrants are “bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.”  And in his January 25 executive order on immigration enforcement he claimed illegal immigrants “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”  Then on February 7 he told law enforcement officials he had invited to the White House that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”  But those are “alternative facts.”  The truth is that the number of murders and the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has decreased dramatically since the 1990s.  So, insinuating that undocumented immigrants are responsible for an increase in violent crimes amounts to scapegoating them for a problem that does not exist.   And as a result of the scapegoating of undocumented immigrants and others by President Trump and his administration the there has been, as the Southern Poverty Law Center noted, “a dramatic jump in hate violence and incidents of harassment and intimidation around the country” while “at the same time, a wave of incidents of bullying and other kinds of harassment” has “washed over the nation’s K-12 schools.”  In Norwalk and neighboring communities, for example, “Make America White Again” fliers were distributed to residents.

[4] https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/topics/immigration-and-crime.

[5]  Go here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmkNCpfgQzI listen to Elvis Pressley sing Walk A Mile in My Shoes.

[6]  “There is often a long lag between applying for a green card and receipt of a visa, with delays in excess of five years common.”  Gordon H. Hanson, The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration, Council Special Report (CRS NO. 26), Council of Foreign Relations, April 2007.

[7]  “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press,  1971, p. 12.

[8] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/immigration/

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJgEnHbLN-I

[10] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/stone-immigration/?_r=0.

[11]   “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Emma Lazarus.  “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” George Washington.  Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBy8t_O592k

[12]    If you think they do another song you should listen too is Deportee by Woody Guthrie as sung by Joan Baez or (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jWFPLjYEaw) or Woody’s son, Arlo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2eO65BqxBE).

[13] As University of California Economics Professor, Gordon H. Hanson, put it in an article available on the web entitled The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration: “ [T]here is little evidence that legal immigration is economically preferable to illegal immigration. In fact, illegal immigration responds to market forces in ways that legal immigration does not.”  Or as Alan Greenspan, put it to a Senate subcommittee:  “[T]here is little doubt that unauthorized, that is, illegal, immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy…Some evidence suggests that unskilled illegal immigrants (almost all from Latin America) marginally suppress wage levels of native-born Americans without a high school diploma, and impose significant costs on some state and local governments. However, the estimated wage suppression and fiscal costs are relatively small, and economists generally view the overall economic benefits of this workforce as significantly outweighing the costs.” And as The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine noted: “When measured over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small.” And as University of California Economics Professor Giovanni Peri was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy?”:  “In states with more undocumented immigrants, skilled workers made more money and worked more hours; the economy’s productivity grew.” And as the Congressional Budget Office indicated in a 2007 report on The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”

[14] Still the issue of what our laws governing immigration and undocumented immigrants should  needs to be addressed.  But it should be addressed with reason and compassion  in order to ensure the rules we adopt reflect the humanitarian values we want to govern our country and the world.  And with that in mind it is worth recalling that as President Ronald Reagan pointed: “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status.” Today, there are about 11.1 million illegal immigrants in the country.  And, like Nury Chavarria, the majority of them have lived and worked here for more than ten years.  Nevertheless, ICE on the orders of President Trump plans to deport all of them at a cost that is astronomical and cannot be measured in dollars and cents alone.

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