Tougher immigration measures increase fears of deportation, but do not change future migration plans / LSE BLOG

Continuing with his second term agenda in spite of the shutdown, President Obama recently called for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill by the end of the year. Looking back at the failed attempts in 2006 and 2007, it is clear that any bill will be accompanied by extensive debates over border security and enforcement. But how effective are these policies? Catalina Amuedo-DorantesThitima Puttitanun, and Ana Martinez-Donate examine the impact strict state measures to curb illegal immigration; their findings cast doubt on the effectiveness of tougher immigration policies at curbing the desire of those who have been deported to re-enter the United States.

This article was originally published on LSE’s USAPP blog.

Immigration is a complex issue that raises strong feelings. Concerns about whether border security and enforcement were tough enough were the greatest impediments to the passage of a much-needed comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. back in 2006 and 2007. Since then, some states have taken immigration matters into their own hands and adopted employment verification (E-Verify) systems as a means to curtail the hiring of unauthorized workers. Some states have gone further and approved increasingly tougher measures that not only pertain to the hiring of unauthorized immigrants, but make it a misdemeanor crime for an alien to be without proper documentation, such as the notorious Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. Nationwide, evidence of the increasingly hostile environment faced by unauthorized immigrants has also become evident through the dramatic increase in the number of deportations from 50,924 in 1995 to 387,242 in 2010 (over a six hundred percent increase in fifteen years).

USApp image

Credit: cfpereda (Creative Commons: BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yet, all these measures might only reduce unauthorized immigration if they seriously affect the experience of undocumented immigrants. While one might assume they do, we still lack an understanding of the degree to which the passage of more punitive state-level measures against unauthorized immigrants increases their deportation fears or their difficulties in getting government assistance, legal, and health services. More importantly, it is questionable whether unauthorized immigrants actually end up changing their migration trajectories and future plans on account of such policy measures. These are important queries if the purpose of these state-level policy measures is to reduce unauthorized immigration and dissuade re-entry attempts. After all, repetitive crossings by unauthorized immigrants are the largest cause for concern and represent a logical target of any efforts to curb unauthorized immigration.

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