Family-Based Immigration Good News, ICE Raid Bad News Overshadowed by Sessions

Right now, the outrage over the separation of families trying to enter the United States from Mexico—legally (despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertions to the contrary) and illegally—dominates the news, though that might change later today if President Trump and legislators successfully put together some kind of immigration reform package.

Because those stories occupy much of the immigration news bandwidth right now, a couple of other interesting stories are flying under radar. One of the most important is a new report from the American Immigration Council that uses data going back to 1965 to demonstrate the economic value of family-based immigration. It shows that immigrants who fit an immediate need earn higher wages at first, but those who enter as part of a family system show greater wage growth and end up having a larger positive impact on the economy. The authors conclude:

Scholars and policymakers often focus on immigrants’ initial earnings and ignore earnings growth. This creates a distorted view of immigrants’ successes and economic contributions to the United States. This misrepresentation promotes a policy preference for immigrants who fill an immediate labor market need, overlooking the fact that other immigrants also succeed economically. Moreover, such narrow preferences fail to recognize that other immigrants adapt to the U.S. labor market, add economic flexibility, and bring innovation to the economy in ways fundamentally different from immigrants who come to fill specific job openings.

Sessions and defenders of the current policy of family separation—which could be overturned with a phone call and doesn’t require any act from Democrats—argue that “This is a nation of laws,” and assert that this core truth validates all enforcement decisions, no matter how inhumane. That kind of absolute, essentialist point of view is playing out with similar results in other situations inside the American borders. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are cracking down on undocumented workers in companies—recently arresting more than 100 employees of a landscaping firm in Ohio and almost a hundred more at a meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee. These come on top of raids of 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and almost 200 businesses in northern and southern California.

These raids are part of a strategy on the part of the Trump Administration to remove the work that draws undocumented immigrants to the United States. According to acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, “Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we're going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers.”

“When we find you at a work site, we're no longer going to turn our heads. We'll go after the employer who knowingly hires an illegal alien ... but we're always going to arrest a person who is here illegally. That is our job.” 

The simple solution to a simple problem approach overlooks the impacts on the communities that accompany these raids. In Tennessee, the meat packing plant is currently operating at 10 percent capacity, and locals are concerned about how devastating it would be to the small community outside of Knoxville if the company closed. The impact is already being felt in the town. “[They] spent their money here too, they bought groceries and automobiles and they helped the local economy as well as the local people that worked there,” Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher said.

Such raids have had impacts that were felt for years. They have ICE’s desired effect of reducing the presence of undocumented immigrants in America, and they cause other undocumented immigrants in the community to leave for fear of being caught up in the sweep. But nothing so far shows that the raids actually stop the flow of undocumented immigrants entering the country, and it’s an open question as to whether whatever is gained by the sweeps is worth the damage done to the communities.

President Trump made his antipathy to immigration a centerpiece of his election campaign, and early signs are that it will be a big part of the upcoming midterm elections. We are seeing time and again that his administration is willing to employ harsh, inhumane measures to reduce immigration into the United States, particularly across its southern border. His war on immigration is one of the dubious “successes” of his presidency because Sessions has been willing and able to make regulatory and policy changes that advance his goals, free from the politics that bog down the Congress and Senate. 

Because they are working around the processes most covered by the media, it’s important to monitor the breadth of the changes they are affecting, and to observe the impacts they have on Americans as well as those who’d like to live here. 

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