Report looks at how restrictive immigration laws affect the undocumented
Avoidance strategies adopted by undocumented immigrants as a result of ramped up enforcement can lead to problems for their larger communities, the report says. (Flickr: jvalasimages)
State and local laws cracking down on illegal immigration, as well as ramped-up federal enforcement, change the behavior of undocumented immigrants in a way that negatively affects the communities where they live, a new report says.
The report, released Monday by the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., found that when local governments enact laws intended to drive undocumented immigrants away, those who decide to stay alter their day-to-day activities to minimize their chances of being caught.
“In a nutshell, we found that immigrants are reacting to hostile policies by laying low,” Angela Kelley, the center’s vice president of immigration policy and advocacy, said during a conference call with reporters. “They’re altering their appearance. They’re using surrogates to reach out to local authorities. They’re changing their behaviors and finding ways to blend in and avoid contact with the authorities.”
The report draws on data collected last year by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers at the school’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies conducted interviews with undocumented immigrants living in North County, Calif., after several jurisdictions in the area adopted tough immigration enforcement measures.
One community, for example, enacted a rule making it more difficult for immigrants to access housing (the ordinance was later rescinded) and set up DUI checkpoints that resulted in police impounding the cars of undocumented immigrants without driver’s licenses. Another passed an ordinance targeting day laborers and is exploring an E-verify resolution which would require some employers to check the immigration status of new hires. San Diego implemented the Secure Communities program, in which local police collaborate with federal immigration authorities, in 2009. Border Patrol is also heavily present in the area.
Angela Garcia, one of the authors of the report, said the interviews revealed that the measures moved undocumented immigrants to hold negative perceptions of police and associate routine activities, such as driving or walking their children to school, with anxiety and the risk of deportation. It made them develop strategies, like sharing information about the location of checkpoints, avoiding public places, and looking “as unsuspecting as possible, acting calm and looking well dressed” to reduce the risk of being identified, she said.
One woman who is a legal resident told Garcia she packs an extra set of clothing — khaki pants and a white button-down shirt — for her undocumented husband to change into after work.
“The family is concerned that he will be targeted as unauthorized because of his dirty appearance on his way home from work in hard manual labor,” Garcia said, adding that the husband, a landscaper, is the sole breadwinner for the family, which includes U.S. citizen children.
The report is part of a series of studies by the Center for American Progress intended to shed light on the impact of federal, state, and local policies, on undocumented immigrants and the communities in which they live. The first report, released last month, examined the effects of tough immigration laws passed in Oklahoma and concluded that such laws don’t compel undocumented immigrants to leave the United States, but rather to move to a different part of the country or go into hiding.
“People who are cheering these kinds of findings should actually hold their applause,” Kelley said, “because as the report details, and as has also been corroborated by law enforcement research organizations like the Police Foundation or the Police Executive Research Forum, these enforcement policies that make people afraid to have contact with the police are in fact endangering all of us.”