What is Self Deportation?

Posted by Matthew Green | Mar 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

The idea of “self deportation” has been around for a while, but more recently, it has become the law in some states. The Immigration Policy Center highlighted the law and its detrimental impact on the states and the country as a whole in a 2012 report. At the time the report, Alabama had just recently implemented its self deportation law.

The main concept of self deportation is basically this: make living conditions for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. so difficult that they choose to leave, or “self deport.”  It's also known as “attrition through enforcement” and the groups who advocate for it are working to get both federal and state laws passed in order to further their agenda. When you consider these laws as a whole, you can see that they are striving to “undermine basic human rights, devastate local economies, and place unnecessary burdens on U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.”

Self deportation was created through the work of national immigration restrictionist organizations. It seems that these groups are attempting to brand self deportation as a less severe means of removing undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The plan has seen moderate success.

In fact, there has been bipartisan support for some of these laws and they have effectively promoted:

  • Expanded detention and deportation;
  • Denial of benefits to both documented and undocumented aliens;
  • Placement of national restrictions on immigrant access to driver's license; and
  • An increase of border enforcement.

Through these acts, state and local governments have effectively increased the need for immigration reform by causing even more harm to be done to the system. Furthermore, these dangerous laws have not resulted in attrition. There is little evidence that these laws have done anything to increase numbers of undocumented immigrants who self deport.

Arizona passed its own self deportation law in April 2010. The law, known as SB 1070, was considered to be one of the toughest attrition through enforcement laws out there. The law required law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of any individual who they encounter during any lawful stop or arrest and any individual booked into custody. It also authorized law enforcement agencies to make warrantless arrests for civil immigration violations and said that it was a crime for undocumented aliens to solicit or perform work.

Another section of the law implemented new crimes. Now, an individual could be charged with a crime for failing to carry immigration registration documents. While a significant portion of the law was struck down or has never been completely implemented, our state has lost millions of dollars in the conference and tourism industry since the law's passing. The state has also spent a substantial sum in defending the controversial law in court.

The problem with these types of self deportation laws is that they do more harm than good. People are less likely to report crimes, no matter their immigration status for fear that someone they love may be arrested and deported. Also, there is more distrust of law enforcement because people assume that many officers are just concerned about someone's “papers,” rather than the safety of the individual. Congress needs to draw a line in the sand in order to stop laws like these. The most recent immigration reform bill could go a long way in accomplishing that goal.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Attorney. The Law Offices of Matthew H. Green focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...

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