Guadalupe García de Rayos had been an active member of her parish in Mesa, Ariz., before she was deported last year to Nogales, Mexico. That is where she met Sean Carroll, S.J., the director of the Kino Border Initiative.
Father Carroll spoke with Ms. García de Rayos and her children last year. “I could see the anguish and suffering on her face, the pain of the family,” he said. “It’s through contact with people like Guadalupe that we’ve seen, time and time again, the harmful effects of deportation.”
Those interactions led Father Carroll and the Kino Border Initiative, the Center for Migration Studies of New York and the Office of Justice and Ecology of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States to undertake a study to better understand the effects of deportation on immigrants and their families. They hope the study will, among other things, inform legislators ahead of the Dec. 7 federal budget deadline.
The mixed-methods study, “Catholic Removal Impact Survey of Society,” surveyed 133 deportees. It found that more than half of deported respondents entered the United States as minors—21 percent of whom were under age 10 when they arrived. A quarter of deportees surveyed owned homes, and on average they had lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
“Deportation...impoverished the affected families and the lives people had made in the United States.”
“One of the defining features of the [Trump] administration’s immigration policy is that it doesn’t meaningfully prioritize [those who are deported],” according to Donald Kerwin, the executive director of the Center for Migration Studies. “This has led to the increased deportation of persons who have lived for long periods of time in the United States, have developed strong family and other ties in the U.S., and either don’t have criminal records or have committed minor, nonviolent offenses.”
Mr. Kerwin noted that 78 percent of respondents had U.S. citizen children, 42 percent had U.S. citizen spouses or partners and 96 percent had been employed, working on average nearly 10 years at the same job.
“Deportation really affected these ties, and we found that it really impoverished the affected families and the lives people had made in the United States,” he said, adding that on average immigrants had $142 with them when they were deported. “Most reported that their spouse or partner didn’t have enough money to support their children in the U.S.—74 percent—or didn’t have enough money to live on.”
Also, three-quarters of respondents reported that they planned to return to the United States, a finding Mr. Kerwin was not surprised by given their U.S. ties.
“The administration has been quite intentional in trying to instill fear in immigrant communities as part of its enforcement strategy,” he said. “It’s conflated undocumented immigrants with violent criminals over and over again.”
“The administration has been quite intentional in trying to instill fear in immigrant communities as part of its enforcement strategy.”
Just over half of deportees reported having been convicted of a crime and just over 10 percent were convicted of a violent crime, as defined by the National Crime Information Center’s uniform offense codes.
The degree to which local police stopped and arrested immigrants, often as a pretext to deportation, was particularly troubling, according to Mr. Kerwin. “This will almost certainly lead immigrants to avoid the police, including by not reporting crimes. It also isolates and further terrorizes immigrant communities.”
More than 60 percent reported their deportation began with a police arrest, and a majority of arrests happened when the respondents were driving, at home or at work.
“So really there is no safe space for immigrants,” Mr. Kerwin said. Respondents did see their faith communities as welcoming, but some raised concerns that they were not doing enough.
In addition to the 133 deportees who were interviewed at the Kino Border Initiative migrant shelter in Nogales, the study also included 20 interviews with members of deportees’ parish communities in Florida, Michigan and Minnesota. Respondents were interviewed during the first five months of 2018.
“What they are doing is stopping and arresting people that shouldn’t be stopped and arrested.”
Joanna Williams, the director of education and advocacy for the Kino Border Initiative, said the organizers of the study hope it will lead the Department of Homeland Security to deprioritize the arrest and removal of long-term residents, individuals with family in the United States and those with no criminal records or only minor offenses. Other recommendations include:
- Broad legislation to reduce family-based visa backlogs;
- Alignment of U.S. legal immigration policies with the nation’s economic, family and humanitarian interests;
- Legalization of undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders and undocumented persons who entered as children;
- Greater oversight collaboration between state and local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to safeguard community safety and avoid racial profiling.
Immigration Act of 1996
Among the 133 respondents, the study found that 38 percent had legal status in the United States, including 14 percent of whom were green card holders. Yet Mr. Kerwin was not surprised by that finding.
The number of legal immigrants who have been deported has been on the rise since 1996, the year President Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
“It expanded the grounds of removal,” Mr. Kerwin explained. It increased the number of crimes for which immigrants could be deported and lose their legal permanent residency. Studies have documented how the 1996 measure transformed immigration enforcement.
Today, D.H.S. should issue clear priorities on enforcement, according to Mr. Kerwin.
“What they are doing is stopping and arresting people that shouldn’t be stopped and arrested,” he said. “They have been here, they are productive, and they are not threatening anyone.”
This story was updated to correct the spelling Guadalupe García de Rayos's name.