Since Trump was elected president, I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations about his wall, deportations, and undocumented citizens in general. People claim that this wall would keep Mexican people out; that deporting undocumented citizens works and that we only deport undocumented criminals; that these criminals depress wages and take American jobs; and that all of the people here who are unauthorized are here because they snuck across the border. These views are shared by many conservatives and are a large reason conservative people voted for Trump. Under the cut, I explore these arguments and address them individually with rebuttals and citations.
Argument 1: Building a wall is the most efficient way to keep undocumented people out of the US
Rebuttal: First of all, in terms of economics, this would be the least efficient thing we could do for our country. The wall would cost somewhere between 15 and 25 billion dollars; would need to cut across 2,000 miles of deserts, rivers, and mountains; and doesn’t take into account that more than a third of all undocumented immigrants came here legally with visas by plane and just decided to stay. The wall also ignores the fact that there is a flow at the border of people both coming in and leaving. If we put up a wall, we’re keeping people in. As a matter of fact, since 2008, more people have been going back to Mexico than are coming to the US because Mexico’s economy is doing better and population growth has slowed down. For these reasons, illegal border crossings are actually the lowest they’ve ever been.
Argument 2: Even if people are coming by plane, can’t we just deport them?
Rebuttal: The United States actually have a pretty horrible track record when it comes to deporting people, especially Mexicans. It goes back to 1846 when our country declared war and seized Mexican land, giving us California, Texas, Arizona, and more. We took the Mexicans from their own land and deported them to other parts of Mexico, claiming their land now belonged to us. We also blamed Mexicans for the Great Depression. Then, during WWII, when Americans were off fighting the war instead of working, we told Mexican citizens to come here to find work. But, after the war ended and our economy was better, we deported these Mexican immigrants again, during a government operation named “Wetback.” During the 30s and 40s, we deported up to 2 million Mexicans, and more than half of them were natural-born American citizens. These Mexicans were crowded onto ships that were described as being similar to “18th-century slave ships”, and they were lucky compared to those taken back through the desert on land since they ended up being left there to starve and find their way back home.
Argument 3: Well isn’t that why we have immigration courts? These courts help us make sure we’re only sending out the people who are here illegally.
Rebuttal: In an ideal world, our immigration courts would be working to make sure these things happen, but the reality is a lot more complex than that. We have almost 30 times more RadioShacks than immigration courts in the US, and put only a small percentage of our immigration reform budget into those courts. For a country with citizens who seem concerned with immigration reform, it looks like people end up doing a whole lot of nothing about it. We only have 57 immigration courts in the entire US. Add that on to the fact that immigration judges take up to 1500 cases per year and are rushed to make decisions, often threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t work fast enough. They get, on average, just 7 minutes to decide whether someone stays or goes. This leads them to deport people who are American citizens, or here legally with visas. The courts have a backlog of almost half a million cases, and our government refuses to put more money into immigration courts. These courts also provide lawyers, even to unaccompanied minors. This horrible system sometimes involves interpreters and translators who work over the phone, leading to miscommunications, and sometimes people are Skyped into court because their holding centers are in such remote areas. In the case of American citizen Mark Lyttle, our court system failed. They deported him because they assumed he was undocumented, and being that he was mentally ill, he didn’t know to speak up for himself and was not granted a lawyer who could have helped him. He was deported to Mexico, but when they realized he was not a Mexican, they deported him to Honduras, whose authorities deported him to El Salvador. For almost a full year between 2008 and 2009, Lyttle was thrown between countries and eventually found on a park bench by authorities in Guatemala City. Only after they were able to contact his brother and get his citizenship papers was Lyttle brought back to his home in the US.
Argument 4: Okay, but aren’t these people hurting our economy and taking our jobs?
Rebuttal: It’s been proven now that mass deportations tend to do more harm than good. Many undocumented workers are in low-skilled jobs making below minimum wage. It isn’t the undocumented immigrants who make the choice to lower wages and take jobs. rather, these are the choices of corporations and exploitative bosses looking to get the most work done for the least amount of money on their end. About a quarter of undocumented immigrants are in white-collar jobs, in management, finance, or professional careers. Removing them would greatly impact the businesses they work for. Undocumented workers also make up around 5% of our entire US workforce. Suffice to say, we need them because they are a part of our economy. Compared with their 5% share of the civilian workforce overall, unauthorized immigrants are overrepresented in farming occupations (26%) and construction occupations (15%). In all industries and occupations, though, they are outnumbered by U.S.-born workers. Also, corporate requirements to verify the immigration status of workers raises the costs of doing business and reduces opportunities to hire people. English-speaking Americans are also at an advantage when undocumented people come here because the lowest-paying jobs are given to these immigrants while the jobs that need English speakers become willing to pay a bit more for that skill. What we do know is that these undocumented immigrants are willing to work for any amount of money and that the people paying them are willing to drive down their wages for cheaper labor. The clearest answer provided to us is to make these people citizens and protect them with the wage laws we have in place for Americans.
Argument 5: But Trump and Fox News said these people are criminals!
Princeton professor of Sociology Doug Massey has this to say: “Immigrants, in general, and immigrant neighborhoods, in particular, have very low rates of crime, much lower than native-born people. The US counties along the Mexico-US border are among the safest and most crime-free counties in the United States. And as far as terrorist threat goes, there is no evidence that there’s ever been a terrorist cell or any terrorist that’s ever tried to cross into the United States from Mexico.”