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Event report: Discrediting “Self-Deportation” as an Immigration Control Strategy

February 10, 2012

This event, Discrediting “Self-Deportation” as an Immigration Control Strategy, took place at the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) on February 6.

Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center, began the briefing with a summary of the IPC’s recent special report entitled “Discrediting ‘Self Deportation’ as Immigration Policy: Why an Attrition through Enforcement Strategy Makes Life Difficult for Everyone. “Attrition through enforcement,” a term that began its use in 2005, is a policy that Waslin describes as aiming to make everyday life and work more difficult for undocumented immigrants. This policy also acts as a deterrent for future immigrants hoping to enter the United States by strict enforcement of existing laws and increasing the incentives for self-deportation – leaving the country on one’s own accord. An attrition through enforcement policy accepted nationwide could result in large numbers of undocumented immigrants leaving the United States, regardless of the number of years they have resided in the U.S., how they have contributed to the economy, and how many of their relatives possess U.S. citizenship. While many states are in support of attrition through enforcement, Waslin emphasized the fact that not every legislator supports it, and some state legislators buy into the concept without knowledge of what it really entails. Both Arizona and Alabama have passed anti-immigration legislation, with attrition through enforcement as their policy, explicitly-stated or not. Alabama’s anti-immigration legislation, H.B. 56, contains provisions requiring that school children provide proof of immigration status before enrolling in public schools. The targeting of children, specifically Latino children, has led to bullying and, ultimately, absence from schools across Alabama. Additionally, employers are refusing paychecks, and many undocumented immigrants are refusing to seek medical care. They are even too afraid to call the police when they witness a crime. Waslin pointed out that an anti-immigration ideology makes a community and a state less safe and welcoming for everyone.

Jonathan Blazer, Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, discussed deportation and went on to consider whether other states might follow in the footsteps of Arizona and Alabama. Currently, approximately 400,000 immigrants are removed from the U.S. each year, and those who remain are left in an “extreme state of fear and uncertainty,” which Blazer calls the “hallmark of the law of attrition.” State bills result from a nationally-coordinated effort from anti-immigration organizations. Alabama’s current legislation restricts business transactions for immigrants and denies them business licenses. Missouri and Mississippi may adopt the policies of Arizona and Alabama, but Blazer believes that states will likely not approve provisions similar to Alabama’s targeting of children. There have already been measures taken to repeal the enforcement of immigration policy toward children. Consequently, Blazer thinks that there has been “recognition among many that this has gone too far.”

Karen Tumlin, Managing Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, talked about race and ethnicity being at the root of the anti-immigration movement, especially in Alabama. Tumlin maintained that Alabama wants to reduce its Latino population and has taken action toward this goal by making difficult the everyday lives of Latinos residing in Alabama, regardless of their immigration status. According to Tumlin, the only evidence that legislators have provided of an increased undocumented immigrant population is the increased Latino population in the state and in area schools. All in all, Tumlin asserted that the goal of legislators in attrition through enforcement policies is to bring on a legal fight and, as a result, the National Immigration Law Center has already taken legal action against several states that support such policies.

Heidi Beirich, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke last and focused her section on the influence that organizations that support attrition through enforcement have on legislation. One such organization is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which Beirich described as having three strategies: a legal arm, a legislative strategy, and a grassroots strategy. Beirich defined the legal arm as the Immigration Reform Law Institute, of which Kris Kobach, Kansas’s Secretary of State, is a part. Kobach continually outlines measures that he believes states can and should be using to enforce immigration laws. FAIR’s legislative strategy includes State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a nation-wide coalition of legislators who use the government to reduce incentives for and secure the border against illegal aliens. Beirich also illustrated FAIR’s grassroots strategy, which includes a large network of FAIR affiliates, giving anti-immigration a voice in each state. Beirich described the increased nativism as a result of FAIR’s efforts, especially in the Tea Part Movement. Due to its push for H.B. 56 in all states, FAIR has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The four speakers emphasized the fact that the American public wants real solutions, not attrition through enforcement. Anti-immigration proponents have claimed that illegal immigration has led to excessive costs and increased crime levels, but these claims have not held up. The nation’s worries about the economy have made immigrants very easy scapegoats. The Immigration Policy Center believes that President Obama needs to do more than challenge attrition through enforcement policies. While the Obama administration supports comprehensive immigration reform, no new laws have been created, yet enforcement of current laws has increased. Waslin told listeners that attrition through enforcement may be coming to their state, so they need to start thinking about how it will affect them and their community.

To read more about the IPC’s special report on self-deportation, click here.


Jaclyn Escudero
SPSSI Spring Intern

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