Deportation is one of the primary mechanisms through which US immigration laws are enforced. In 2013, the Pew Research Center estimated that there were 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the US, each vulnerable to deportation following any interaction with government authorities. Under President Obama’s administration, there has been a steady increase in the number of deportations each year. In negotiations regarding comprehensive immigration reform, enforcement has remained a priority for both parties. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are the two primary agencies that enforce immigration policy; they are responsible for approximately one-third of the total budget of the Department of Homeland Security. New programs to enhance local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with ICE, such as Secure Communities and the 287(g) program, are examples of the ever-expanding policy of deportation.
While discussions of border enforcement treat deportation as a response to individual behavior, the effects of deportation radiate outward into families and communities. This report is focused on the effects of deportation on the families that deportees leave behind. Significant numbers of deportees leave children behind when they are deported from the United States, some of who are US citizens.[i] Spouses, parents and other relatives are also affected, both in terms of separation of family members and educational effects.
While national data regarding the effects of deportation on families is available from a variety of agencies, data specific to Washington is difficult to obtain. This is due to the lack of studies previously conducted, as well as the reluctance of individuals to share such personal information. This study seeks to measure the effects of deportation in our state in order to contribute to our current understanding and to inform public policymaking. Our findings show that Washington state data correlates with the results of national studies; however, certain Washington policies do make the state a better place for vulnerable families.
In this report, we will focus on three distinct topics related to deportation: quality of life, family separation, and education. We found that deportation in Washington has both direct effects—those that result from the actual deportation of an individual—and indirect effects, which result from the general fear associated with living with vulnerability to deportation. In terms of quality of life, deportation has detrimental effects on income, housing, access to rights and physical well-being. Deportees’ families are also more vulnerable to exploitation. Deportation separates Washington families, sends many children to foster care and shelters, and causes emotional distress. Deportation also has a significant impact on education; it can interfere with achievement and attendance, and results in significant barriers to undocumented students. The results of our study underscore the systemic difficulties that undocumented immigrants in our state face on a daily basis, and should prove useful when determining statewide immigration policy.
It is important to emphasize that due to the prevalence of mixed-status families. A mixed-status family includes least one family member that is undocumented, which means that many of the family members experiencing the effects of deportation are United States citizens. The polarized political discourse around immigration fails to account for the way entire communities, including US citizens, have their basic rights curtailed by current immigration enforcement practices.
Policies regarding deportation practices are ever-changing; in the course of our six-month research period, the REAL Hope Act pass been put in place in Washington State, which provides financial aid to undocumented college students from the Washington State Need Grant. As a result, access to higher education has been drastically changed for undocumented students through lobbying and activism by both documented and undocumented students. Even more recently, inmates at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center staged a hunger strike from March7th to May 5th, in protest of prison conditions and threats on the ability to seek asylum. Protestors included detainees, their families, and undocumented students who wanted to bring awareness to the issue. Those involved in the hunger strike released a statement in early March stating that deportations should be ended, and that the separation of families caused by deportations was unacceptable. This hunger strike, in which more than 700 inmates participated, garnered media attention and highlighted the importance and relevance of deportation policies on families in Washington State, as well as the rising momentum of the immigrants rights movement.