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Center for American Progress Report Finds that Self-Deportation “Is A Myth”

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shadowsThe Republican primary jog this week is moving to Arizona, home state of the SB 1070 anti-immigrant law that has inspired self-deportation-themed copycat bills all over the nation.  In anticipation of this, the Center for American Progress (CAP) today has released a new report, “Staying Put but Still in the Shadows,” an analysis which finds that harsh anti-immigrant laws do not cause undocumented immigrants to self-deport, only to hunker down deeper into the shadows.  Today’s report is the first in a series from CAP which attempts to “document [the lives and struggles] of the undocumented.”

“The belief is that if we crack down tough enough, they’ll leave,” said Angie Kelley, CAP’s Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy and the moderator of the press conference announcing the release.  “That is a myth.”

According to Leah Muse-Orlinoff, the author of the report, the idea that undocumented immigrants would self-deport themselves back to Mexico or another origin country if only they are put under proper pressure is a “nonsensical rationale.”  Sixty percent of adult undocumented immigrants in the US have lived here for 10 years or more.  About 1 in 10 of all American families are mixed-status, with at least one undocumented member and one legal resident member.  Undocumented immigrant already know there are no jobs, no prospects, no future for their children where they came from.  Why would they go back?

“Families feel scared, vulnerable, and scapegoated,” when they are caught in the crosshairs of laws like SB 1070, Muse-Orlinoff said during the press conference.  “But they feel committed to stay.  They tell themselves, ‘we’re going to hunker down, we’re going to do everything we can to stay out of the spotlight.  We’re going to stay out of the law enforcement’s eye.’  In the most extreme jurisdictions, they move to different states.  But there’s no economic or emotional sense in returning to Mexico.”

When they hunker down and retreat further into the shadows, however, these immigrants risk becoming an exploitable population.  As Muse-Orlinoff explained, they stay away from law enforcement and abstain from calling the police for help, even when they find themselves in dangerous situations.  And when the police lose a channel of communication with an entire demographic, the entire community suffers.

“The thing is, crime spreads,” said Lieutenant Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma City Police Department, another speaker during the press conference.  “If criminals see the opportunity to make money, they’re going to continue on.”  And if undocumented immigrants are scared away from reporting crimes to the police, the chance decreases that that criminal will get caught.

“Basically, this whole thing just seems to be very anti-family,” the third speaker, Lourdes Villanueva of Farmworker Advocacy, added.  “We need to shed light on what the issues really are.  We are just doing a tremendous disservice to families—we  are just tearing them apart.”

The report comes at a particularly timely juncture: the state of Kansas—home to SB 1070 architect Kris Kobach—has just announced that it will likely not be pursuing an SB 1070-like anti-immigrant law this legislative session.  And states like Mississippi and Virginia, according to Kelly, are still considering enacting such a law, pending the outcome of legislation like HB 56 in Alabama.