U.S. immigration law enforcement policies haven’t stopped migrants

President Joe Biden has taken some steps to reverse his predecessor’s legacy of broad and indiscriminate immigration enforcement, including a recent ad that it will no longer detain immigrants in two places under surveillance for alleged abuse.

But Republicans are adamant that increased immigration enforcement is a prerequisite for any broader immigration reform.

“There will be no immigration reform until you have control of the border,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Roll Call last month.

There is now almost 40 percent more people in immigrant detention since Biden first took office, and his administration continues to refuse most migrants arriving at the border under pandemic restrictions put in place by his predecessor, President Donald Trump, which led to the evictions of more than 350,000 people this year only.

But research shows that the threat of detention and deportation in the United States does not deter migrants from making the journey to the southern border, especially if they are victims of violence and may be looking to escape ” devil they know ”in their country of origin. .

“Managing migration at the border, especially the kind of migration we see now, from a strictly deterrent and enforcement perspective is simply not sustainable in the long run and does not have the impact that people think it should have, ”Theresa Cardinal Brown, director general of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said. “That’s why we need to rethink our paradigm of how we talk about migration and everything we do at the border. “

Detention and deportations do not deter migrants from coming

The United States began to dramatically ramp up immigration enforcement in the 1990s with bipartisan support. The idea was that making the border crossing more expensive and more arduous would deter more people from making the trip in the first place. It became the preferred strategy for policymakers because it was easy to sell to voters, although it was not necessarily based on a thorough understanding of the factors behind unauthorized immigration.

But a growing body of research shows that the threat of immigration law enforcement is not an effective deterrent for long-term migrants. Emily Ryo, professor of law and sociology at USC Gould School of Law, found in a paper published earlier this month that it had no significant effect on people’s decision to migrate from Mexico and the “North Triangle” of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In cooperation with Vanderbilt University and the Latin American Public Opinion Project, she designed an experiment that was included in the 2018-2019 Americas Barometer survey of nearly 11,000 adults of voting age in the four countries. She divided the interviewees into three groups and provided them with different prompts offering information on the number of migrants apprehended by US authorities as they attempted to cross the border, subjected to indefinite detention and faced with a lack of legal procedure when it comes to their deportation. They were then asked how likely they would be to choose to live and work in the United States over the next three years.

The response patterns between the groups were surprisingly similar, although they received different information about U.S. immigration law enforcement policy. Most said they were not likely to go to the United States, but across all three groups about 21% said they were “somewhat likely to go,” 10% said they were ‘they were’ somewhat likely ‘and around 10% said’ very likely. ‘

Knowledge of the US deportation and detention policy did not have a significant effect on their intentions to migrate. Ryo even performed analysis to account for potential differences in the degree to which information about U.S. politics is persuaded for different populations, such as those who are victims of crime and violence, people with family ties to the United States who could seek reunification and people leaving for economic reasons. the reasons. It still hasn’t made a statistically significant difference.

“Since what we are trying to do with our immigration enforcement policy is deter people, my study does not support this approach in terms of using policies such as immigration detention for achieve this goal, ”said Ryo.

Another study, conducted by Vanderbilt University political science professor Jonathan Hiskey and his coauthors, also found that knowledge of increased US deterrence efforts does not influence people’s decisions to migrate.

They analyzed data from the 2014 survey of over 3,000 people in 12 Honduran municipalities with varying rates of homicide and criminal victimization. The investigation was carried out just as the Obama administration was pushing its “danger awareness” campaign with more than 6,000 public service announcements and more than 600 billboards. The dominant message was that the United States would send people back to their home countries if they attempted to cross the border.

Most of those interviewed believed that crossing the border was more difficult and less secure than the year before, and that it involved an increased risk of deportation and worse treatment of migrants. In this regard, the campaign had appeared to succeed in persuading Hondurans that migration to the United States was a “very dangerous proposition with little chance of success,” according to the researchers.

You might expect this to make them less likely to eventually migrate. But that’s not what the researchers found; respondents’ views on the dangers of migrating to the United States and the likelihood of deportation did not appear to influence their migration plans in any significant way.

On the contrary, the factor most associated with people’s desire to migrate was the fact that they had been the victims of crimes, as is the case with many asylum seekers fleeing gang violence in Honduras.

“The detention and deportation of current migrants from El Salvador and Honduras, as well as the wide publicity of these detention and deportation procedures, are unlikely to persuade many people in these countries who are directly confronted with the levels tragically high in crime and violence, ”the researchers wrote.

Knowledge of immigrant detention in the United States, however, had an unintended effect on those interviewed in Ryo’s experience – it made them more likely to think that the system’s legal outcomes and procedures American immigration is unfair. This is worrying, given that perceptions of fairness are important predictors of people’s willingness to obey the law and cooperate with legal authorities, Ryo said.

“We should really be concerned about the extent to which generating these kinds of perceptions of injustice can backfire on more people who ignore our laws and take this dangerous journey to get to our border and try to cross it,” a- she added. .

More and more undocumented immigrants have settled in the United States due to increased enforcement

The increase in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States from about 3 million in 1986 to over 11 million today has been another unintended effect of the enforcement of US immigration laws. Princeton sociologist Doug Massey and his co-authors found in a 2016 paper that the rapid expansion of immigration law enforcement in the years following 1986, the last time a major immigration law was passed, in fact pushed more migrants to decide to s ‘settle permanently in the United States.

Before that, Mexican men had traveled back and forth across the border, typically seeking temporary work opportunities, and crossing into El Paso and San Diego. The United States’ decision to expand immigration law enforcement has not significantly altered its ability to cross the border. They weren’t much more likely to be apprehended when attempting to cross, and even if they were discovered by U.S. immigration officials and quickly returned to Mexico, they could still be successful after multiple attempts.

What has changed, however, are the costs and risks associated with returning to their country of origin and then attempting to return to the United States. Migrants had to start crossing into more dangerous areas of the border, passing through the Sonoran Desert and Arizona, and came to rely more on the services of paid smugglers, which became more expensive. Between 1980 and 2010, the probability of a migrant returning after their first trip to the United States fell from 48% to zero, according to the Massey article.

“The combination of increasingly expensive and risky travel and the virtual certainty of entering the United States created a decision-making competition in which it always made economic sense to migrate but not return home for face the high costs and risks of subsequent entry attempts. The authors write in the journal.

In this way, the application of the immigration law had the opposite effect of the intended effect. And the authors write that if policymakers had never increased funding for border patrols beyond accounting for inflation, the population of undocumented immigrants living in the United States would likely have “increased much less.” “.

What could reverse the trend is if the United States legalizes the undocumented immigrant population living in the United States, or at least large swaths of it, which could allow more people to return. in their country of origin.

But first, US policymakers need to consider how existing strategies to deter unauthorized immigration have failed to work.

“Our policymakers have actually not been very careful trying to better understand what the real effects of our enforcement policies are, and this is very problematic as tons of resources are spent on implementing some. policies that don’t actually need the outcome we want, and can lead to unintended consequences that we don’t want, ”said Ryo.

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