This paper makes the case that the era of large-scale undocumented population growth has ended, and that there is a need to reform the US legal immigration system to preserve and extend US gains in reducing undocumented entries and the US undocumented population overall. The paper demonstrates that a broad and sustained reduction in undocumented immigration to the United States occurred in the 2008 to 2015 period. It shows that the Great Recession had little, if any, role in the transformation to zero population growth of the undocumented population. Rather, the undocumented population stopped growing because of increased scrutiny of air travel after 9/11, a decade and a half of accelerating efforts to reduce illegal entries across the southern border, long-term increases in the numbers leaving the population each year, and improved economic and demographic conditions in Mexico. These conditions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
For too long, the policy debate over border enforcement has been split between those who believe the border can be sealed against illegal entry by force alone, and those who believe that any effort to do so is futile without expanding legal work opportunities. New evidence suggests that unauthorized migration across the southern border has plummeted, and border enforcement has been a significant reason for this decline. These research advances should help to inform a more rational public debate over border enforcement expenditures. In particular, Congress should take a careful look at the incremental gains that might come from additional spending on border enforcement. The evidence suggests that deterrence through enforcement, despite its successes in reducing illegal entry across the border, is producing diminishing returns due to three reasons. First, arrivals at the border are increasingly made up of asylum seekers from Central America, which is a population that is harder to deter because of the dangers they face at home, and in many cases not appropriate to deter because the United States has legal obligations to consider requests for asylum. Second, the majority of new additions to the US unauthorized population is now arriving on legal visas and then overstaying. And finally, among Mexican migrants, a growing percentage of repeat border crossers are parents with children left behind in the United States, a population that is far harder to deter. Finally, the administration could better inform this debate by releasing to scholars and the public the research it has sponsored in order to give Americans a fuller picture on border enforcement.
The United States has long struggled with the practice of detaining immigrant families and over time, most reform efforts have flagged, if not failed. This paper examines the impact of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) through an exploration of the family residential center for persons in immigration custody. The paper provides an inside look at how policymakers, at various points in the Obama administration, sought to roll back the administration’s most infirm practices and the fate of those efforts. It begins with a brief history of family detention in the United States, continues with a summary of the reforms undertaken both early and late in the Obama administration, and examines the significant challenges the administration faced and the less progressive positions it adopted during its first and second terms. The paper concludes with a discussion of reasons for the rapid reversal of the Obama administration’s previous reforms and provides recommendations to achieve a civil, civil system of immigration enforcement for families and all others, which means nothing less than the transformation of the immigrant detention system from a criminal to a civil paradigm. The need for such a transformation is all the more urgent in light of executive actions taken in the early days of the Trump administration.
Despite the fact that many low-wage, violation-ridden industries are disproportionately occupied by immigrants, labor standards and immigration reform have largely been treated as separate pieces of an otherwise interrelated puzzle. Not only is this view misguided, but this paper argues that strengthening labor standards enforcement would ensure that standards are upheld for all workers, immigrant and others. In addition, labor standards enforcement is instrumental to the erosion of sub-standard conditions in certain sectors, often referred to as the “secondary” labor market, that are associated with advanced market economies. Ensuring labor standards are upheld diminishes the incentive for employers to undercut wages by exploiting vulnerable workers, many of whom are immigrants. As this paper argues, strengthening enforcement must include not only “vertical” mechanisms, including strategic enforcement and penalizing and criminalizing egregious and repeated labor violators, but also “lateral” mechanisms, such as co-enforcement by workers and through worker and community organizations. The article illustrates the role of co-enforcement in labor standards through two case studies.
This paper reviews and critically evaluates the principle of family unity, a hallmark of US immigration policy over the past 50 years and the most important mechanism for immigration to the United States. Family unity is critical for promoting immigrant integration, social and economic well-being, and intergenerational mobility. However, several US policies and practices contribute to prolonged periods of family separation by restricting travel and effectively locking in a large number of people either inside or outside of the United States. Furthermore, increasingly aggressive enforcement practices undermine family unity for a large number of undocumented and mixed-status families.
This paper outlines the complexities — and unlikelihood — of keeping families together when facing, or in the aftermath of deportation. After discussing the context that prevents reunification among immigrant families more generally, I outline several of the particular ways that families are divided when a member is deported. Drawing on case studies from longitudinal ethnographic research in Mexico and the United States, I describe: 1) the difficulties in successfully canceling deportation orders, 2) the particular limitations to family reunification for US citizen children when a parent is deported, and 3) the legal barriers to authorized return to the United States after deportation. I argue that without comprehensive immigration reform and concrete possibilities for relief, mixed-status and transnational families will continue to be divided. Existing laws do not adequately address family life and the diverse needs of individuals as members of families, creating a humanitarian crisis both within and beyond the borders of the United States. The paper concludes with recommendations for immigration policy reform and suggestions for restructuring administrative processes that directly impact those who have been deported and their family members.
The article suggests that post-9/11 there has been a reconfiguration of refugee policy and a reconnecting of humanitarian and security interests which has enabled a discourse antithetical to the universal right to asylum. The main conclusion is that in a post-post-Cold War era, European governments have developed restrictive policies despite public sympathy. Support for the admission of refugees is not, however, unqualified, and most states and European populations prefer skilled populations that can be easily assimilated. In order to achieve greater protection and more open policies, this article recommends that human rights actors work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners to challenge the anti-refugee discourse through media campaigns and grassroots messaging.
US immigration removal procedures need reform, and systematic flaws in the removal adjudication system must be addressed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses every tool in its arsenal to expeditiously remove people from the United States, including by bypassing judicial hearings. In “ministerial” or expedited forms of removal, there is no courtroom, no administrative judge, and rarely any opportunity for legal counsel to participate or for federal judicial review. In these settings, the rule of law is entirely within the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who serve as both prosecutor and judge. This paper argues that the rule of law must be restored to the US removal adjudication system, and it proposes ways in which this can be accomplished. Specific recommendations include the necessity of clear enforcement priorities, sufficient resources to allow for fair adjudication, a statute of limitations for immigration violations, and the right to counsel.
This paper examines the importance of applying a subject-centered approach to understanding immigration noncompliance and to developing effective, ethical, and equitable immigration policies. In general, a subject-centered approach focuses on the beliefs, values, and perceptions of individuals whose behavior the law seeks to regulate. This approach has been widely used in non-immigration law contexts to produce a more nuanced understanding of legal noncompliance. By contrast, the subject-centered approach has been an overlooked tool in the study of immigration noncompliance. This paper argues that a subject-centered understanding of why people obey or disobey the law can advance public knowledge and inform immigration policy in important ways. Specifically, the paper considers how the use of this approach might help us: (1) recognize the basic humanity and moral agency of unauthorized immigrants, (2) appreciate not only direct costs of immigration enforcement policies, but also their indirect and long-term costs, and (3) develop new and innovative strategies to achieving policy goals.
This paper analyzes the restrictionist logic that informs the Trump administration’s handling of immigration policy, and explores some of the underlying cultural, philosophical, and political conditions that inspired support for Trump. It contends that the Clash of Civilizations (CoC) paradigm is a useful lens to help understand the positions that President Trump has taken with respect to international affairs broadly, and specifically in his approach to immigration policy. The paper will focus primarily on Trump’s approach to refugee resettlement during his campaign and the early days of his administration. While there are unique aspects of the contemporary reaction against refugee resettlement, it is rooted in a much longer history that extends back to the World War II period. The paper explores this historical backdrop, and helps to clarify the reception of refugees after the fall of the Soviet Union. It also helps to explain how and why a CoC paradigm has become ascendant in the Trump administration. The CoC paradigm is at its core pre-political, and the policy prescriptions that follow from it are more effect than cause. The paper concludes with a series of recommendations for restoring support to the US refugee resettlement program, bolstering foreign aid and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (which are essential to the program’s success), and engaging the cultural underpinnings of opposition to this program.