Which undocumented immigrants should we deport?

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Immigration has been a hot topic in presidential debates for decades. Candidates will often make divisive statements and policy proposals to placate their electoral base, without any intention of following through with their promises. However, even if a politician planned to carry out his or her campaigned immigration plan, outward facing discussions rarely include enough information to allow their constituents to formulate truly informed opinions.

When politicians discuss “illegal foreign nationals” in the United States, they are generally referring to three subcategories of people: (1) undocumented migrants, who are people that crossed a U.S. border, evading an immigration checkpoint and/or without proper documentation (approximately 60 percent of the “illegal foreign national population”; (2) illegal non-immigrants, who are people that crossed a U.S. border through a legitimate checkpoint and with proper documentation but overstayed their visa (approximately 40 percent of the illegal foreign national population); and (3) illegal immigrants, who are long-term legal residents and permanent visa (green card) holders but violated their terms of entry by committing a crime (less than 1 percent of the “illegal foreign national population”). All three of these populations are deportable. The question is, who does the political official in question wish to deport and why?

{mosads}While all three of the aforementioned subcategories of illegal foreign nationals have violated civil immigration law, most of them have not committed any criminal offense. If the political official considers all of these people “criminal aliens,” that includes nearly 11 million illegal foreign nationals. Logistically, it is questionable how we could arrange and afford to have all of these people deported. More importantly, why we would want law-abiding and contributing residents deported? Alternatively, if a “criminal alien” is defined as a person who has committed a criminal offense in addition to violating civil immigration law, this is a much smaller population, less than 1 million. Most politicians, Democrat and Republican, support deporting this criminal subset of the illegal foreign national population.

In addition to confounding different illegal foreign national subgroups, politicians also perpetuate misconceptions to garner votes. During the 2016 vice presidential debate, Republican running mate Mike Pence told an estimated 40 million to 50 million Americans, “The reality is that there’s heartbreak and tragedy that has struck American families because people that came into this country illegally are now involved in criminal enterprise and activity.”

However, this is simply not the case for undocumented migrants and illegal non-immigrants. In fact, there is a scholarly consensus, which has concluded for years that these foreign nationals, despite their violation of civil immigration law, commit proportionally fewer criminal offenses than U.S. citizens.

Pence went on to claim that “we don’t have the resources or the will to deport them systemically,” which is also a fallacy (when discussing illegal foreign nationals who have committed a criminal offense). Since 2005, jurisdictions around the country have been adopting Memoranda of Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the 287(g) program, which allows a state and local law enforcement to report suspected illegal aliens for deportation. In many jurisdictions this policy was used to detain people who have committed no criminal offense, but were only suspected of violating civil immigration law.

For example, in Virginia, where Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine served as governor and senator, jurisdictions like Prince William County systematically report anyone who is arrested and brought to the local jail for a crime. Per law, the jail can detain these individuals for 48 hours, in addition to any other incarceration deemed appropriate under their suspected criminal violation. By law, if ICE does not apprehend the individual within the 48-hour detainer, the jail must release the individual. However, ICE regularly and systematically picks up and deports these illegal foreign nationals who have been charged with a criminal offense.

With that being said, deportation is a severe punishment that could affect millions of individuals and families in the United States. Most of these families follow the criminal code and spend much of their time working. When a politician talks about deportation, it is imperative for voting constituents to fully understand who it will effect, why it is necessary, and how it will be implemented. During the 2016 vice presidential debate, Pence stated, “Donald Trump has said we’re going to move those people out, people who’ve overstayed their visas.”

Is that truly what he meant? Is that really what his constituents want? 

Mehlman-Orozco is the author of “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium.” She holds a Ph.D. in criminology, law and society from George Mason University. Follow her on Twitter @MehlmanOrozco.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


Tags Border campaign Donald Trump Election immigrants Immigration Immigration reform Mexico Mike Pence politicians Tim Kaine

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