During the most recent Republican debate, things got heated between John Kasich and Donald Trump as they discussed amnesty policy and Trump's wish to build a wall along the Mexican border. Incidentally, the Democratic party has had a lot to say on the topic of immigration reform, as well. Hillary Clinton has been criticized for using the term “illegal immigrant" so flippantly, and Bernie Sanders has been making some pretty bold promises about his potential plans for deportation relief.
Now, the vows from U.S. governors that they will refuse asylum for Syrian refugees has overshadowed even our debating politicians. The governors in question are fighting for a pause on Syrian immigration, as they claim that allowing them refuge would put our nation at risk. The federal government gets the final say on this, but the governors' stubborn resistance doesn't bode well.
No matter how you feel about it, the issue of immigration affects all of us. Personally, this is a matter that's very close to my heart — because half of my family, including my mother, came to this country as undocumented immigrants. They worked their butts off to hold down jobs, and eventually completed the tedious immigration process and were granted U.S. citizenship.
Whether or not you have an emotional connection to the topic, you should make it a point to be informed on how immigration works (and doesn't work) in the U.S. And this information can help you with that. Additionally, if you have all the facts, you might be able to educate others. Here are five facts about U.S. immigration that are definitely worth knowing, no matter who you're planning to support in 2016.
1. You Shouldn't Always Trust Deportation Statistics
In 2014, The Economist reported that the United States was deporting nine times as many illegal immigrants as 20 years ago. Additionally, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released data showing that the Department of Homeland Security expelled 438,421 in 2013, and 414,481 in 2014. Conversely, The New York Times has reported that immigrants were 26 percent less likely to be deported in 2014 than they were at the beginning of Obama's presidency. Evidently, the rate of deportations in recent years depends on who you ask.
Anna O. Law, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties at CUNY Brooklyn College, wrote an article for The Washington Post last year about how recent changes in immigration and terminology have caused this major confusion. Law says that before 1996, there was a difference between immigrants who were stopped from crossing the border and those who were deported after they set foot in the country. Post-'96, though, both were lumped into one category called "removal," leaving the term "deportation" without an official meaning.
Despite this, the media continued to use the word in ways that don't even equal a true deportation or expulsion. For example, Law explains that it's even used in reference to what is officially called "voluntary departure" or "return." This mislabeling has caused the supposed number of deportations to skyrocket "because it's unclear what categories of people are actually being counted and categorized."
2. Many Central Americans Are Killed After Deportation
According to Clara Long, an immigration researcher for Human Rights Watch, the year 2014 has seen a “generalized crackdown” on individuals from other countries crossing the border to enter the United States. This has resulted in expanded detention centers and expedited deportation processes which don’t allow people’s claims for asylum to be heard.
Central America has some of the highest murder rates in the world. Because of this, many Central Americans, such as 26-year-old Angel Diaz, are killed within days of deportation. Diaz was sent to the U.S. by his father after his brother was kidnapped and nearly beaten to death by a Honduran gang. But not long after arriving in the U.S., Diaz was arrested by police, put in a detention center, and deported. Within days of returning to Honduras, he was shot to death on a bus, allegedly by gang members.
Since Jan. 2014, there have been 45 similar cases reported in El Salvador, 35 in Honduras, and three in Guatemala. The death rate among deported individuals is also increasing in Mexico, despite the fact that fewer of their citizens have been trying to cross the border in recent years.
Children are in the most danger. In 2014, 70,000 children traveled alone across the American border to escape gang- and drug-related brutality, and many were expelled back to Central America shortly after. A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, SY Lee, told The Guardian that citing criminal activity in one's home country was not enough to claim asylum in the United States. Fear of harm needs to be tied to race, religion, nationality, attachment to a certain social group, or political stance for asylum to be granted.
3. Asian Immigrants Are Often Overlooked
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 12 percent of undocumented immigrants are Asian — that's 1.3 million individuals. Many of these people, (including children who were actually born on American soil) do not possess the most basic rights, such as access to health care.
Jong-Min You, a 35-year-old Korean who has lived in the U.S. his whole life and still is considered illegal, told The Guardian that it's time for Asians to step forward and fight alongside Latin Americans, because they have been "suffering in silence." This is partly due to Asian culture. For traditional Asian families, shame is associated with participating in protests and rallies — and statistics back this up. From the time the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was launched in 2012 until March of this year, only 21 percent of eligible Asians applied for the program, compared to the 77 percent of eligible Latin Americans who applied.
This is also due to a lack of awareness in the Asian community, an issue which Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) is trying to remedy. Tiffany Panillo, a legal advocate for AAAJ, said, “We don’t get a lot of Asians who don’t apply after we tell them more about the program." So her goal is to raise awareness.
4. Immigrants Aren't Economically Draining Our Country
In 2012, immigrants paid $11.8 billion in state and local taxes — and according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, that number could potentially rise by $2.2 billion once proper immigration reform is instituted. Additionally, immigrants own more than 1.4 million businesses in our country, and rake in $67 billion in income. It can easily be argued that individuals who fall under this category are actually creating potential jobs for thousands of Americans.
The Cato Institute released an article in 2012 concluding that immigrants boost economic productivity without affecting net job growth for the rest of the country. This is primarily because immigrants don't choose the same career paths as most of the Americans who are born in the U.S. That said, there are some Americans who are negatively affected by immigration. American-born high school dropouts saw a six percent decrease in their wages between 1990 and 2010 due to the arrival of foreigners.
However, the belief that immigrants abuse the U.S. welfare system couldn't be more incorrect. The majority of immigrants are actually ineligible for government assistance because they lack legal residency. This means they don't have access to Medicaid, food stamps, or government health care.
5. Immigration Reform Could Save Our Country Billions Of Dollars
Gordon Grey, the director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, claimed that the United States would save $410 billion over the next ten years if the immigration reform bill were put into full effect. Furthermore, if the House of Representatives would just push this bill through, we could reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next 20 years.
On top of reducing the national debt, this bill would allow numerous undocumented immigrants to obtain work legally, and start businesses that would ultimately create jobs for native-born Americans. Plus, the Hamilton Project reports that employees born in the U.S. might actually see a 0.1 to 0.6 percent rise in their wages.