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Immigration Law Blog

Friday, October 12, 2018

Do Restrictive Immigration Laws Drive Undocumented Immigrants Out of America?

Proponents of strict immigration laws often state that stricter laws can significantly reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the US.  However, according to a study released by the Center for American Progress, increasing regulation will not necessarily drive America’s estimated 10 million unauthorized immigrants out of the country. The study “Staying Put but Still in the Shadows: Undocumented Immigrants Remain in the Country Despite Strict Laws” instead suggests that several other factors influence whether unauthorized immigrants stay or leave.

According to the study, proponents of “attrition through enforcement,” a measure whereby law enforcement puts into effect strict measures against unauthorized immigrants to encourage them to leave, are mistaken in their basic premise. The basic idea of “attrition through enforcement” revolves around making life miserable enough for unauthorized migrants that they “self-deport” to their home country. But the authors of the study argue that such restrictive measures against unauthorized migrants are not only costly – they’re ineffective. Instead, the measures “complicate” already-tense relationships between law enforcement agencies and unauthorized immigrants.

Family ties are a primary reason unauthorized immigrants hesitate to leave the US, despite pressures which may be placed on them by stricter laws. According to the study, most undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for upwards of 10 years. Uprooting would mean leaving their nuclear and extended family units. The cost of travel is also an issue. The study notes that the lack of opportunities in the unauthorized immigrant’s home country is also a significant factor. Despite the effects of the American recession, the authors added that for most immigrants, dwindling opportunities in their home countries offered even less incentive to leave.

The study further notes that many unauthorized immigrants do not even take anti-immigrant laws into consideration when deciding whether they should stay or leave the United States. Instead, these laws merely shuffled unauthorized immigrants from place to place. The study noted that the displacement of unauthorized immigrants by anti-immigration laws further estranged them from law enforcement officials by driving them deeper underground. As a result, unauthorized immigrants are less likely to report crimes, in order to avoid interaction with the police.

The authors of the study offer a counter-solution to “attrition through enforcement”:

"Instead of burdensome state and local legislation, sensible policy solutions lie with the federal government and with Congress, which has the power to pass comprehensive immigration reform, bringing immigrants out of the shadows to vet them in a secure and orderly way rather than further criminalizing them. Reforming the legal visa system will help diminish the impetus for clandestine migration in the first place. Revamping the cumbersome, slow, and backlogged system will curtail illegal entry and promote the complementary goals of economic growth and family unification. Rather than unsuccessfully trying to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the country, we should work to integrate them, which will keep families together, improve community safety, and better the economy all at the same time."

Others would argue that even if such laws are not successful in terms of pressuring undocumented immigrants to leave the country, they will serve as a deterrent to those who may be contemplating immigration outside legal channels, especially those who do not have close family members already in the United States.


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