Illegal immigration has been a hot button issue for years. Many have argued that we need to deport everyone here illegally and strengthen border security (most notable with a wall on the border with Mexico) so that we can maintain rule of law. Others say we should exercise compassion, and that since America has always been a nation of immigrants we must give them opportunity, too. A few months ago, the issue was brought once more to the forefront when President Trump announced that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Obama executive action provided protection to illegal immigrants who arrived in the country when they were below the age of 16, are enrolled in or have completed high school, and have no significant criminal record (for a more detailed list of requirements, see this link). Attempts at compromise between Democrats and Republicans to replace the protections have for the most part fallen apart. Many hope to see DACA reinstated, saying that it’s necessary to protect those who have nowhere else to go and are not at fault for how they got here. Others support Trump’s initial decision as a move that upholds law and order on two counts, both in terms of immigration law and in terms of the constitution. But the DACA question brings up an even larger issue: Is a policy of deportation really helping our country?
One of the strongest arguments for mass deportations of illegal immigrants is that it would make our communities safer. In the words of president Trump, those crossing the border illegally “are “bringing drugs...bringing crime… [and are] rapists.” And so deporting those here illegally will “make our communities safer for everyone.” Right?
Actually, the data aren’t really supporting that claim. Numerous studies have shown that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate. Researchers have compared cities in California with a large recent immigrant population to those with a smaller immigrant population, and found that those with more immigrants have a statistically significantly lower crime rate. One would assume that illegal immigrants, already having broken US law, would be more likely to commit further crimes. However, there is no evidence that suggests that claim is true. There aren’t any data of crimes committed by illegal immigrants, so the real difference in crime rates is unknown. An analysis by a professor at University of California, San Diego has found that sanctuary cities (cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement) actually have lower crime rates than non-sanctuary ones. So there is more evidence that illegal immigrants commit less crime than there is that they commit more.
Furthermore, a policy of deportation can greatly decrease safety. When a neighborhood is afraid of the police, crimes will go unreported. Nobody would want police involved for any reason, as their mere presence increases the likelihood that one would be thrown out of the country. LAPD chief Charlie Beck has found that there have been fewer crimes reported by Latinos since the election of Donald Trump. There is no reason to believe that these crimes aren’t happening anymore. Crimes are still being committed, but they aren’t being reported and the perpetrators aren’t being held accountable. If security and upholding the law are the end goals, then deportation is far from the solution.
Now, let’s look at the effects illegal immigrants have on the economy. Common sense economics should tell us they should have a negative effect on low-skilled, American-born workers. They increase the supply, lowering wages as well as job openings. Economists have concluded that illegal immigrants do lower wages of US adults without high school degrees by between 0.4% and 7.4%. But that’s not the whole story: a paper by UC Davis professors Andri Chassamboulli and Giovanni Peri found that, because illegal immigrants are cheaper and allow employers to create more jobs, “increasing deportation rates and tightening border control weakens the low-skilled labor markets, increasing unemployment of native low skilled.” And Peri has also found that states with more undocumented workers allow for more specialization of labor, so skilled workers become more productive and make more money. So, if a trained carpenter has a low-skilled worker around to do menial tasks, the carpenter will be more productive. Furthermore, all the money that illegal immigrants do make they spend back into the economy. So the money does continue to stimulate the economy, even if it’s being spent by an illegal immigrant instead of a US citizen. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute told the New York Times that “there is a consensus that, on average, the incomes of families in this country are increased by a small, but clearly positive amount, because of immigration” (including illegal). Illegal immigrants don’t hurt the American economy, they help it.
But what about the cost to the government? First, it’s important to note that they aren’t eligible for many benefits available to citizens. They can’t receive SNAP benefits (commonly known as food stamps), Medicare and non-emergency Medicaid, or social security (despite having paid $12 billion into the system in 2010 alone). And many illegal immigrants actually do pay income taxes through an Individual Tax Identification Number, knowing that it will help them obtain a legal status. But, despite this, they do still cost the government money. The Heritage Foundation found that in 2010, the average illegal immigrant household used $24,721 in government benefits and services (such as education, policing, and roads), and paid $10,334 in taxes, leading to a deficit of $14,387. This may seem like a lot, but one must remember that deportations themselves cost money as well. Each deportation in FY 2016 cost an average of $10,854. If one considers that the average Hispanic immigrant household in the US has 3.59 people, then in total it’s $38,965 per household. The money saved suddenly doesn’t seem that great, especially when one considers the other effects illegal immigrants have on the economy.
The third argument commonly made in favor of deportation is simple: illegal immigrants broke the law, so they should be punished. We are a country of laws, and we should be able to enforce those laws. And that is certainly on the face of it a perfectly reasonable argument. However, on closer inspection one will find that it is rather circular. Appropriate punishments for crimes and how we enforce them are themselves part of the law, and so to say that the law should not be changed because it is the law is ridiculous.
The fact of the matter is that many of those who come to the US illegally do so as a necessity. Mexico is a dangerous country with little to no opportunity, and so people come to the US for the hope of a chance at a better life. Over 100 bodies a year are found on the desert border between Arizona and Mexico. People risk their lives in crossing the border because they have nothing to lose, so the idea of deporting those caught as a deterrent doesn’t really work. We have to consider this humanitarian aspect of the situation. The US should protect its own interests, but we also have a duty to help those in need. This is not to say that we should open up our borders and provide citizenship and welfare benefits to all those who walk across. To the contrary, border control is vital to a nation’s security. But there’s no way to stop people from coming in completely. A wall will only lead to smugglers finding different routes. And because many of those crossing illegally do so because they have no other choice, a policy of deportation won’t be as effective a deterrent as many believe. People will get in no matter how much we spend on security, and so we will still need to decide what to do with them once they’re here.
Deportations, as we’ve established above, don’t really benefit the country. So what should we do with those here? Giving government benefits and providing complete amnesty is hardly fair to people who came in through legal processes. But on the other hand, they should be given the chance to survive and the chance to eventually become integrated. Therefore, I am in full support of deferred action programs similar to DACA for all who came to the country illegally, with requirements including a lack of criminal record and either a job or an active search for one. Those with such a deferment, of course, would be required to pay applicable taxes as well (helping make up for the deficit discussed above). I am also in support of a path to citizenship, although it should be more difficult for those who came here illegally than for those who didn’t. Basically, those wanting to come to the US should be incentivized to do so via normal channels by ensuring that those who cross the border illegally have a harder time once here. That way, only those who are truly in need will want to break the law.
DACA was an important step towards reforming our immigration system. We need to protect those who had no choice in coming here illegally, and those eligible for DACA certainly qualify there. Trump has suggested that Congress should enact DACA legislatively, and while that’s an important first step, there’s far more to be done. The simple fact that so many cross the border illegally despite the risks tells us loud and clear that a complete reform of our immigration system is necessary for the benefit of all who believe in the American dream, regardless of where they were born.
image source: americanthinker.com