Over the past few decades, the United States has deported undocumented immigrants at an astonishing rate. At its peak in 2012 – 2013, deportations hit a high of more than 400 thousand people. The vast majority were Mexican. “It’s hard to over-emphasize how substantial the growth in deportations has been,” says Matthew S. Hall, Policy Analysis and Management.
“The scale of this system is enormous,” Hall continues. “It has a history that goes well back to the 1980s but has been continually ramping up and kicked into a near gear during the first term of the Obama administration. Since then it has somewhat tapered off, not because the Trump administration has eased up, but because Mexican migration has bottomed out since the recession.”
The Personal and Social Stress of Being Undocumented
A large part of Hall’s research revolves around trying to understand the implications of the growth of unauthorized migration and determining ways to estimate the economic impact of being undocumented. “I’m trying to quantify the costs for all the important markers of social development and wellbeing,” says Hall.
“This includes how lacking legal status impacts the ability to find a job, negotiate wages with the boss, change jobs, find a good place to live, and go to college,” Hall explains. “Our empirical work consistently shows that it’s very hard to be undocumented. In all these areas, in all these interactions with different institutions, undocumented immigrants fare far worse than virtually any other group.”
In the course of the deportation ramp-up, the coordination of immigration enforcement between local police and the federal government, represented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been a significant development, Hall says. “People often don’t realize that being undocumented is not a criminal offense,” he explains. “It’s not a violation of criminal law; it’s a violation of immigration law, and police officers typically don’t have jurisdiction over immigration law.”
“People often don’t realize that being undocumented is not a criminal offense. It’s not a violation of criminal law; it’s a violation of immigration law, and police officers typically don’t have jurisdiction over immigration law.”
Yet the devolution in how immigration law is enforced effectively deputizes local police officers in some areas of the United States. In those areas, being pulled over for running a red light or driving a car with a broken tail light can lead to an undocumented immigrant being detained on suspicion of violation of immigration law and ultimately deported. “This has important consequences for what life is like for undocumented persons,” Hall says. “They deal with fear and stress during daily and routine tasks, worrying that at any moment they might be detained and deported.”
Deportation, What the Research Reveals
In a series of research projects, Hall investigated the costs to individuals and communities of the growth in deportations. Together with Jacob Rugh, sociologist at Brigham Young University, Hall looked at the rise in deportations and the effects on the housing crisis of the mid-2000s. Using data obtained from Homeland Security through the Freedom of Information Act, the researchers compared communities that participated in programs to collaborate with ICE on immigration enforcement with those that did not. When looking at housing, Hall and Rugh found a clear link between deportations and home foreclosures among Latinos.
“There was notable growth in home foreclosures among Latinos living in communities that participated in this deportation partnership—trends that we didn’t find for other racial groups in the same areas,” Hall says. “Part of the reason is that most undocumented immigrants live in mixed-status homes. They’re part of households that also include legal immigrants and native-born citizens. And they’re contributing to the household in lots of ways, including housing and mortgage payments. In these precarious situations, when you remove one income from the household, it suddenly is really hard for the home owner to make the mortgage. And, in the context of a housing crisis, it becomes easy for a household to come under water.”
Deportation and Segregation
In another project using the same design, Hall and Rugh looked at residential segregation in the communities that collaborated with ICE compared to those that did not. “We found that deportations led to an increase in segregation,” Hall says. “Our hypothesis is that the segregation is largely driven by Latinos in these areas where there’s a police presence—a sort of occupied police state where minor offenses can lead to a potential threat of deportation.”
“There is a tendency and a preference for people to move back toward neighborhoods where they feel safe, which are typically areas with large Latino concentrations,” Hall continues. “This movement back tends to increase segregation. It’s consistent with work in other fields, like criminology, where they’ve found that racial-ethnic minorities perceive they are less likely to interact with police in areas where they can hide in the shadows of others.”
Handicapping the Future
The collateral consequences of deportation extend well beyond the person who is ultimately deported, according to Hall. Their family members, children, neighborhoods, and communities suffer in meaningful and measurable ways. For the children, in particular, the consequences are likely to reverberate across generations.
“This enforcement system is moving people toward more segregated, isolated neighborhoods,” he explains. “That makes upward mobility difficult for the often U.S.-born children of these migrants by shaping the resources and opportunities available to them. It further concentrates poverty among a population that is already very vulnerable but is also a rapidly growing share of the U.S. population. Their contributions to the economic, social, political, and cultural future of the United States is growing because of these demographic forces. We’re almost handicapping the future by making this population even more vulnerable.”
Hall’s research, uncovering the hidden impact of mass deportation, leads him to some conclusions regarding immigration policy. “My research, along with a broader body of research by others, clearly shows that policies focused on resolving the problem of undocumented migration by mass deportation are counterproductive,” he says. “The policy implication is that we need to think of different approaches to this problem. Not only can you make the argument that the current approach is cruel, but it is damaging families and communities in real ways that will lead to long-term consequences for those communities and the nation as a whole. The reality is that we’re well past time to work toward some pathway for legal residence.”