The topic of immigration has reached a boiling point in the United States. Donald Trump ran on a campaign which exploited existing the ignorance and fear surrounding immigrants in the United States. Given the controversy and confusion about illegal immigration, Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Trump’s proposed border wall and protection acts, it is vital to know the facts:
● Total US immigrant population in 2016: 45.6 million
○ An estimated 11.1 million, 3.4% of the US population, are undocumented, 6.2 million of which are from Mexico
● Over 60% of undocumented migrants have been living in the US for 10 years
● The US civilian workforce includes 8 million undocumented immigrants
● In 2016, 804,793 people received family-based U.S. lawful permanent residence.
○ This program allows someone to receive a green card if they already have a spouse, child, sibling or parent living in the country with U.S. citizenship or, in some cases, a green card. This is sometimes referred to by critics as “chain migration”.
Immigrants, Crime, Benefits, and Taxes
● Undocumented immigrants are incarcerated at lower rates than native-born Americans.
● Undocumented immigrants collectively pay billions of dollars in taxes every year despite taking back little of it in benefits (the exact proportion according to Stephen Gross, the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration is $13 billion paid vs. $1 billion in retirement benefits for Social Security)
○ Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes, property taxes—even if they rent housing.
○ More than half of undocumented immigrants have federal and state income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes automatically deducted from their paychecks.
■ However, undocumented immigrants working “on the books” are not
eligible for any of the federal or state benefits that their tax dollars help to fund.
○ Undocumented immigrants pay approximately $11.74 billion dollars in state and local taxes every year.
● In 2017, 303,916 people were apprehended trying to cross the US Mexico border, down 26% from 2016.
● One third of all undocumented immigrants over the age of 15 have a child born in the US
● DACA defers deportation proceedings for two years for qualified individuals who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children. The program also gives those who are approved work authorization, and the approvals can be renewed.
● Applicants to DACA have to be:
○ At least 15 years old when applying but under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
○ Under the age 16 when entering the United States
○ Living in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007
○ In school or have graduated or completed high school, or have been honorably discharged from the military
○ Not convicted of a felony, or significant misdemeanor
● There are approximately 700,000 DACA recipients living in the US
● DACA delays deportation for 2 years and gives adults eligibility for work permits, but does not provide legal citizen status
● 97% of DACA recipients are employed or in school
● DACA is not the same as the DREAM Act (development, relief, and education for alien minors), which extends pathways to citizenship to undocumented youth who entered the United States as children, graduated from high school and have no criminal record.
○ 1.8 million undocumented immigrants came to the US before their 16th birthday
○ The average age of DREAMers when they entered the US is 6 years old
US/Mexico Border and The Wall:
● The US shares approximately 1,900 miles of border with Mexico
○ 700 miles of the border is already secured by either a fence, wall or both with 1,279 miles of natural border formed by the Colorado River and Rio Grande.
● The Department of Homeland Security estimates Trump’s proposed wall will cost $22 billion for construction
● Most of the drugs smuggled across the border enter through legal ports of entry in hidden compartments in vehicles
So, why are these statistics important? President Trump has been using DACA renewal as a bargaining chip to try to push his border wall proposal through congress. Meanwhile, 800,000 DACA recipients and 1.8 million DREAMers wait in limbo for Congress to take decisive action on illegal immigration policy. Trump’s hardline rhetoric against illegal immigration stokes xenophobic sentiment within his base about the undocumented population. His unrelenting call for building a wall on the American Southwest border does nothing to acknowledge the 11.1 million undocumented people living in the States. While President Trump’s demands for a wall and expedited removal have largely fallen on deaf ears in Congress, his message was heard loud and clear by the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants residing here. For the 8 million undocumented persons in the labor force, going to work becomes a daunting and anxiety ridden task. Some have been driven underground by constant fear of deportation. It is also important to note, for those that say “come here the right way,” that the path to citizenship is long and costly, and with DACA expiring, the undocumented population
already residing in the US have no path to apply for citizenship. The threat of deportation looms large over the heads of most undocumented immigrants, especially for those who have known no other home than the US.
I recently went on a Villanova Service and Justice Experience trip to San Diego, where we spent time living with and learning about the communities living on and around the border.
One day we went to a charter co-op elementary school located in Logan Heights, only 15 miles away from Tijuana, Mexico. This elementary school is situated in an impoverished and often crime-ridden neighborhood, and the school boundaries are clearly defined by towering chain link fences all around. The principle explained to us that many children walk long distances every morning to get to school, and some students travel across the US/Mexico border every day, a commute that can take up to 3 hours. While this community is home to many Mexican and Central American migrants, there are also a large number of Middle Eastern, Asian and East European migrants that call Barrio Logan home as well. I spent the day in a kindergarten classroom, and learned where some of these students commute from each day to be at school. As the students went outside for recess, the teacher explained her challenges with keeping some of her students in school. She said that every single student and teacher at this school has been touched in one way or another by deportation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some kids live in uncertainty and fear that their parents might not
be home when they get back. But this is an extremely tight-knit community, brought together by loss and resilience, and the school’s administration does their best to account for each and every student. These kids and their communities are caught in the crosshairs of a fundamentally broken immigration system many of them are too young to understand.
Obama-era policies that protected undocumented migrants that came here as children have recently been repealed by Trump’s administration, casting undocumented families and their kids deeper into the shadows and in some cities, particularly sanctuary cities, creating a rift between local and state governments, and the federal government. Furthermore, the rhetoric utilized by President Trump unfairly and inaccurately paints a generalized and dangerous picture of illegal immigrants, wielding false statistics intended to rouse fear and distrust of a group that has statistically lower instances of crime than native-born US citizens. His popular campaign promise to ‘build a wall and make Mexico pay for it’ has, thus far, fallen short, but with DACA now hanging in the balance, Trump has revived and furthered his effort, visiting San Diego to view wall prototypes last month. Missing in all of this is a comprehensive or realistic plan for the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States and the 800,000 DACA recipients whose future remains tenuous and uncertain. At the very core of this argument is the morality of deporting people to a country they have never known. Trump’s tough stance on immigration and his disregard for the reality of this demographic show that he fails to recognize the fundamental humanity of each and every undocumented immigrant and the vital role they play in our economy and society.