Following the news that California is now taking steps to move away from the punitive federal program known as Secure Communities, the Center for American Progress today is releasing a new report on the enforcement aspect of immigration, entitled “Legal Violence in the Lives of Immigrants: How Immigration Enforcement Affects Families, Schools, and Workplaces.”
As the report points out, immigration enforcement practices do not just affect immigrants themselves—they affect their families, neighborhoods, and communities. While an estimated 11 million undocumented Americans live in the US, there are 16.6 million people who live in mixed-status families, who fear deportation for themselves or for their family members. And this fear itself can significantly affect how immigrants and their loved ones live their lives: it can hinder their integration into American society and keep them from reaching their full potential for success.
The report notes that harsh immigration enforcement—or in their language, legal violence—can affect immigrants through their families, schools, and jobs. From the report:
- Within the family, legal violence causes people to live in constant fear of being separated from loved ones—something that affects even U.S. natives with relatives at risk of deportation. This same fear and stigma of immigration status keeps parents from accessing social services, even those to which their citizen children are legally entitled. Harsh enforcement regimes cause even those with legal status to withdraw from public life, jeopardizing community integration.
- Within the workplace, increased enforcement has led to employers having more control over the exploitation and mistreatment of their workers. Many of these workers feel that they cannot stand up for their rights for fear of retribution. This type of exploitation hurts not only immigrant workers but also the native born as well, who have to contend with lower wages and less safe working situations.
- Within the school, legal violence makes young people and their families fear schools as a place where family members may be detained. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in October 2012, for example, detained parents after they dropped their children off at two Detroit-area schools. Other students underperform or exit school early based on fears of detention or the knowledge that without legal status, higher education and a good job are inaccessible.
There’s a national solution to legal violence—and it’s federal immigration reform that allows the 11 million undocumented Americans living in the US apply for citizenship. As the report puts it:
Congress must pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and includes specific provisions for immigrant youth, such as the provisions of the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who complete high school and some college or military service. The administration should target enforcement practices on serious criminals rather than low-level offenders. Finally, immigration must be decoupled from local enforcement efforts so that immigrants and their families can regain trust in authorities.
View the full report “Legal Violence in the Lives of Immigrants: How Immigration Enforcement Affects Families, Schools, and Workplaces” from the Center for American Progress here.