Communities in Crisis: Interior Removals and Their Human Consequences

Kino Border Initiative
Center for Migration Studies of New York
Office of Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

Credit: Larry Hanelin

Communities in Crisis: Interior Removals and Their Human Consequences



 My oldest son asks, ‘Where are my rights as a US citizen? Where is my right to live with my family and have a home?’

– Mother of three US citizen children and wife of detained immigrant

My husband called and said that he had a normal check-in like every year. He went like always, but this time they arrested him. I asked why if everything was going well. He had a clean record. He is a good father. He is working to help our kids get ahead. We have two children who are citizens and we are fighting for them, so that they are good people and professionals. I didn’t see any reason for him to get arrested.

– Woman whose husband was deported

In my preaching, I guide and insist that it is important to be aware of our rights, to not have fear, and to know that we all are God’s children and need a piece of land in this planet. I try to remind them that they are immigrants but also human beings before anything else and that all human beings have rights.

– Priest


In late 2017, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), and the Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States initiated a study to examine the characteristics of deportees and the effects of deportation, and to place them in a broader policy context.[1]

The CRISIS Study (Catholic Removal Impact Survey in Society) included both quantitative and qualitative elements. During the first five months of 2018, KBI staff surveyed 133 deportees from the United States at its migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora. Survey respondents were all Mexican nationals, all but one were men, and each had been living for a period of time in the United States.[2] They had resided in 16 US states, the majority in Arizona, followed by Nevada, California, and Utah. The survey sought information on their US lives, the removal and detention process, and the impact of removal on them and their families.

The study also included one interview with a deportee (via Skype) and 20 interviews with the family members of deportees and other persons affected by deportation in Catholic parishes in Florida, Michigan, and Minnesota. The parishes — which the report will not identify in order to ensure the interviewees’ anonymity — were chosen based on their geographic, demographic, and sociopolitical diversity, their connections to the agencies conducting the study, and their ability to facilitate access to deportees, their families, and others impacted by deportation.

The interviews explored: (1) the impact of removals on deportees, their families, and other community members; (2) the deportation process; and (3) the relationship between deportees and their families. They provided an intimate, often raw look at the human consequences of deportation.

Long Tenure, Homeownership, Legal Status, and Community Engagement

By and large, survey respondents had built their lives, made their homes, and established long and deep ties in the United States.

  • On average, they had lived in the United States for 19.9 years.
  • More than half (56 percent) first entered the country as minors (below age 18), and 21 percent below age 10.
  • Thirty-eight percent reported having legal status in the United States, including 14.3 percent who were lawful permanent residents (LPRs).
  • Twenty-six percent had been US homeowners.
  • Fifty-two percent had participated in church activities, 34.1 percent regularly attended church services, and 9 percent had participated in community organizations.

Family and Economic Ties and the Consequences of Deportation

Survey respondents had established strong family and economic ties in the United States. Deportation mostly severed these ties, and divided, devastated, and impoverished the affected families.

  • Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents had US citizen children.[3]
  • The average age of respondents’ children living in the United States was 14.9 and 33 percent were 10 years old or less.
  • Forty-two percent had US citizen spouses or partners.[4]
  • Ninety-six percent had been employed in the United States.
  • On average, they had worked nearly 10 years in the same job and earned roughly $2,800 per month.
  • Respondents had an average of $142 in their possession at the time of their deportation.[5]
  • Deportees reported that they needed employment (78.2 percent), financial (68.4 percent), housing (56.4 percent), emotional (56.4 percent), and social integration (54.9 percent) assistance.
  • Most survey respondents reported that their spouse or partner in the United States did not have enough money to support their children (74 percent) or to live on (63 percent).
  • Respondents identified a range of close family members who depended on them financially prior to their deportation, including their mothers (72 percent), fathers (57 percent), and siblings (26 percent).
  • Forty percent reported having dependents with chronic health or psychological conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and autism.
  • Nearly one-half (48.1 percent) said that their children — some of whom lived in the United States and some in Mexico — were experiencing difficulties in school.

Plans to Return to the United States

Given the strong ties binding survey respondents to the United States, it comes as little surprise that:

  • Three-quarters (73.5 percent) reported that they planned to return to the United States.
  • Forty-five percent identified only a little or “not at all” with their country of birth.
  • Only one-third (35.4) percent reported feeling safe since their deportation.

The Criminalization of Deportation  

The Trump administration has regularly portrayed undocumented residents, migrants seeking to request asylum at the US-Mexico border, and deportees as criminals and security threats. Most survey respondents either had not been convicted of a crime or had committed an immigration or traffic offense prior to their deportation. Nevertheless, study participants described a deportation system that treated them as criminals and instilled fear in their communities.

  • Nearly one-half of respondents said they had not been convicted of a crime prior to their deportation.
  • Of the 37 respondents (51.4 percent) who reported having been convicted of a crime,[6] more than one-third (35.1 percent) had been convicted of a traffic or immigration offense, 21.6 percent of a drug-related crime (including possession), and another 21.6 percent of a violent crime.[7]
  • A high percent of respondents (65.2) reported that their deportation began with a police arrest, 30.3 percent reported having been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and less than 1 percent by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • The majority of apprehensions took place while respondents were driving (36.1 percent), at home (26.3 percent), or at work (6 percent).
  • Survey respondents spent an average of 96 days in immigrant detention. Most were detained for 30 days or less, and 17 percent were detained for 180 days or more.
  • Only 28 percent were able to secure legal counsel.
  • Roughly one-fourth of survey respondents reported spending no time in criminal custody and 22.6 percent spent a week or less prior to their deportation. However, 17.3 percent spent more than one year.


The CRISIS Study provides a snapshot of the Trump administration’s deportation policies and their effect on established US residents (deportees), families, and communities. In order to mitigate the harsh consequences of these policies and promote the integrity of families and communities, we make the following recommendations.

To the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Issue prosecutorial discretion guidelines that de-prioritize the arrest and removal of long-term residents; persons with US family members; and those without criminal records or with records for only minor offenses.
  • Use detention only as a “last resort” and employ the least restrictive means necessary — including supervised release and other alternatives to detention (ATDs) — to ensure appearances in court, check-ins with immigration officials, and possible removal.
  • Adhere to ICE’s National Detention Standards, which recognize the need for access to legal counsel, generous family visitation guidelines, transparency regarding the location of detainees, and humane conditions of confinement.

To Congress:

  • Pass broad legislation to reduce family-based visa backlogs; to align US legal immigration policies with the nation’s economic, family, and humanitarian interests; to legalize the undocumented parents of US citizens and LPRs and undocumented persons who entered as children; and to expand equitable relief from removal.
  • Appropriate funding to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice at levels that align with the recommendations in this report and that, in particular, assume the principled exercise of prosecutorial discretion, reduced use of detention, and expansion of community-based ATDs and legal orientation programs.
  • Reduce funding to ICE in light of its indiscriminate enforcement policies and their negative impact on the safety and integrity of US families and communities.
  • Provide greater oversight of formal partnerships and collaboration between state and local police and ICE and CBP to ensure that these arrangements do not undermine community safety or lead to racial profiling.

To state and local police:

  • Collect data to measure the prevalence of pretextual police stops and arrests (intended to lead to removal) for minor criminal violations, with a focus on the extent to which such stops involve racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Limit collaboration with ICE and CBP to prevent local police from acting as immigration agents, to promote public safety, and to ensure that no group of residents fears reporting crimes or otherwise cooperating with the police.
  • Strengthen policies against racial bias in policing, and regularly train and evaluate law enforcement officers on adherence to these policies.
  • Adopt and implement policies — like municipal identification cards and driver’s licenses for the undocumented — that treat immigrants as full members of their communities.

To faith communities:

  • Address the urgent priorities of immigrants, including the need for safe and welcoming spaces, deportation planning, transportation, access to legal representation, public safety, access to the police, and accompaniment to places where they might be vulnerable to arrest.
  • Prioritize pastoral service to immigrants and their families; fully incorporate them into all faith institutions, ministries, and programs; and educate nonimmigrant members and the broader public on the immense challenges facing immigrants.
  • Identify, collect, disseminate and implement best pastoral practices for accompanying and supporting deportees and their families at all stages of the removal process.
  • Advocate for the generous exercise of prosecutorial discretion; humane enforcement policies that prioritize family unity and cohesive communities; expanded legal avenues to regularized status; and strong citizenship policies.



[1] KBI, which operates in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, seeks “to promote US/Mexico border and immigration policies that affirm the dignity of the human person and a spirit of binational solidarity.” KBI provides humanitarian assistance and accompaniment to migrants; social and pastoral education with communities on both sides of the border; and research and advocacy. CMS is a think tank and an educational institute devoted to the study of international migration, to the promotion of understanding between immigrants and receiving communities, and to public policies that safeguard the dignity and rights of migrants, refugees, and newcomers. CMS is a member of the Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMN), a global network of migrant shelters, service centers, and other institutions, and the Scalabrini Migration Study Centers. OJE of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and United States seeks to foster reconciliation on issues such as refugee protection, immigration, and economic, criminal, juvenile, and environmental justice.

[2] The report uses the phrase “interior removals” to refer to the deportation of persons who have been living in the United States for a period of time.

[3] Respondents were asked to list the age, residency, and citizenship status of up to five children.

[4] This figure refers to respondents with spouses or domestic partners.

[5] Mexican pesos were converted into dollars using prevailing exchange rates on August 19, 2018.

[6] Only 72 respondents answered this question.

[7] The study classified these self-reported crimes based on the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) uniform offense codes.

Author Names

Kino Border Initiative, Center for Migration Studies of New York, and Office of Justice and Ecology (OJE) of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

Date of Publication November 2018
DOI 10.14240/rpt1118