Immigration Restrictions Hurt Americans Too

American immigration restrictions inflict immense suffering on immigrants and would-be immigrants. Thousands have died attempting to enter the U.S. through the desert, and others have perished attempting to make sea journeys. Tens of thousands languish each year in detention centers. Others are abused by government agents or criminals. Many are deported from the U.S. after having lived many years here. Millions of undocumented immigrants live anxious lives, not knowing if or when they will be arrested and deported.

Another group is also harmed by the restrictions: American citizens. Like immigrants, they suffer in myriad ways.

To begin with, Latino citizens sometimes must endure profiling by authorities seeking undocumented immigrants. NBC News notes that “Latino and immigrant groups say that due to increased enforcement, being Latino in some places is enough to be pulled over under the guise of a minor traffic stop and be asked to prove American citizenship.” Several years ago Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona (who is no longer sheriff) was ordered by a judge to cease stopping people to check their immigration status because the stops amounted to racial profiling. And “the ACLU, border-town residents, members of Congress and even some border patrol agents argue that the rapid and vast expansion of immigration enforcement in the years since the Department of Homeland Security was created, without expanded oversight to match it, has turned the southern border of the U.S. into an occupied police state, where abuses of power and harassment by agents are an everyday occurrence.”

Some American citizens actually have been detained and perhaps deported by immigration authorities. Over the last decade hundreds of U.S.. citizens have been detained, either at local jails at the request of immigration officials or at immigration detention centers, even though immigration agents do not have the authority to detain citizens. One citizen was imprisoned for over three years because he was mistakenly considered to be a non-citizen. Another spent almost two years in detention. One researcher suggests that some citizens have actually been deported in recent years. Looking further back in history, probably hundreds of thousands of citizens of Mexican descent were deported to Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s.

In addition, deportations and detentions of non-citizens often negatively impact U.S. citizens. This is because, in the words of a report by the Center for American Progress, “undocumented immigrants do not live separate and walled-off lives from the documented, but instead live side by side in the same communities and in the same families.” It is estimated that about 4 million children who are citizens have one or more undocumented parents, and The Washington Post reports that more than 100,000 citizens lose a spouse or parent to deportation each year. (See here and here.)

Deportations separate citizen children from parents and, for families who have not yet experienced deportation, create fear among children that they could be separated from their parents in the future. Detentions also are traumatizing for children. For example, after a father of two U.S. citizens had been in detention for six months, his wife reported that “her 2-year-old son wakes up crying for his father every night, while her 3-year-old daughter has refused to learn to count or tie her shoes until he comes home.” (See also here.) Citizen children also experience raids on homes by immigration agents.

Adult U.S. citizens, like citizen children, suffer when immigration enforcement targets family members. In one case, an American wife of a man facing deportation was diagnosed with situational depression after he was detained. Another American wife accompanied her husband when he was deported but wanted to be able to return to the U.S. with him and their child, stating “’We do not have any family or friends here (London). We are all on our own… We desperately want to come home.’”

Immigration enforcement also hurts many U.S. businesses. Farmers sometimes can’t find enough workers to harvest their crops because of immigration restrictions. (See here and here.) Different kinds of firms suffer if their workers are deported. (See here.) Businesses can be punished for hiring undocumented workers.

At the same time, citizen workers in some cases may endure poor working conditions because employers, using the threat of reporting undocumented coworkers to immigration authorities, can stifle efforts to unionize or report labor violations. As one article noted, “immigrants’ inability to invoke their rights results in weakened employment protections for all American workers—and in some instances, means that American workers are subject to violations of minimum-wage and overtime protections, wage theft, and other forms of employment violations, such as unsafe working conditions.”  In 2009 the AFL-CIO and other organizations reported that

One of the most devastating illegal employer tactics is the threat to call immigration authorities on workers. The chilling impact of employers’ unlawful threats is felt not only by undocumented workers, but by their co-workers. Documented workers and U.S. citizens may be reluctant to organize their workplaces because properly timed threats to turn workers over to immigration authorities can undermine the union election process. And if workers should win a union election, deportation of their undocumented co-workers will dilute the power of the bargaining unit. No industry relies solely on an immigrant workforce. The Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey found that of more than 330 occupations, only two have immigrant majorities. This means that threats to call immigration authorities deprive workers in nearly every industry of their right to a voice at work.

Open borders would end all of this suffering endured by so many American citizens. Citizen spouses and children wouldn’t have to worry about or experience the arrest, detention, and deportation of a loved family member. Citizens themselves wouldn’t be detained or deported. Workers’ efforts to report labor violations or organize wouldn’t be undermined by immigration enforcement, and businesses could depend on a free flow of needed labor. Open borders would benefit immigrants and citizens alike.

Joel has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.

See also:

our blog post introducing Joel
all blog posts by Joel

6 thoughts on “Immigration Restrictions Hurt Americans Too”

  1. Great read. I agree that stringent immigration laws not only hurt potential immigrants but citizens of said country as well. Open immigration laws allow skilled workers to come and work. Therefore they add to the total output of the work force. Not to mention that they spend their wages domestically which helps businesses thrive and add to the GDP.
    However citizens are hurt as well. Your example of Latinos being asked to prove their status as a citizen is great. I know that a couple years ago this was a big issue in boarder towns in Arizona. It reached the point were Latinos had to carry around their US passports as proof. Another issue with strict immigration laws is the employers of smaller businesses lose out on potential employees that have a skill set they require. The loss of potential production therefore effects the country as a whole.

  2. I could not agree more with your post. There was various things that stood out to me and a few more I would like to point out. Primarily, I think you are very correct and stand with your opinions on how open borders would benefit everyone including citizens. Coming from a Hispanic family, I myself have family members that every day, they face the terror of possibly being deported at any given time. I can definitely see how the majority of families are so traumatized and live in constant fear of when it could be their turn to leave their country. I say they are leaving their country because even though they were not born here, a majority of them were brought at a very small age that this is the only country they can truly call home.
    I was born and raised in a small town called Watsonville which is vastly known for agriculture. In the past few years there has been a tremendous decline in the amount of field workers that are willing and able to work. A lot of them are undocumented and with the newer laws they are either too scared to work with crooked papers or simply will not get hire because of their status. It is extremely sad because the majority are hardworking people that are just trying to make an honest living. This of course has a great toll on the entire country’s economy. The less people that are picking berries or any type of agriculture work means less supply thus meaning higher prices on everything.
    Lastly, mass deportations do not come at a cheap price. According to Donald Trump’s plan on removing all illegal immigrants which is about 8 million would extremely hurt the country’s economy. According to new research from economists Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega at Queens College CUNY, California alone would be facing a 4% drop of about 83 billion dollars in the short term. That is only California alone the entire country relies on immigrants because a lot of them do the jobs other would never even do it if they got paid twice as much as immigrants get paid right now.

  3. I completely agree with the fact that by being more stringent with our immigration laws that we as Americans also are negatively effected. I agree with one of the comments above in saying that by closing off our borders we disable the ability to hire more skilled labor from foreign countries. What I would also add is that we also have a huge demand for un-skilled labor here in the United States especially in California. The farming industry in California alone accounts to $46.4 billion which supplies food all over the world. Un-skilled labor, mostly immigrants, account for the majority of the work done in all of these farm Corporations and without them, we as Americans would feel the full detrimental effect. Corporations would crumble and the nation would be at a standstill. This is why it is important to stay up to date with current laws and fight against detrimental immigration laws. Immigrant skilled, semi-skilled or un-skilled labor is not only welcome but should be supported by us to ensure not only their well being, but ours too.

  4. If a company said, “Customers might think they want to buy products/service from my competitors, but that is really hurting them. The government should stop my competitors so I can make customers better off.” They would get rightfully laughed at. Many citizens of US, Canada, Europe, actually understand immigration, don’t think a more open-ish border model is in their interest, and I believe them. More to the point, the people so heavily vested in a more open border model are really not credible advocates for the interests of incumbent citizens.

    Caveat: I do agree that specific citizens might be hurt by immigration enforcement, broadly, citizens benefit from it, and if they didn’t, there would not be unusually high passions in voting for restrictionist policies.

  5. What just about everybody who thinks like this fails to comprehend is the terrible impact too many people coming to this country will have. First we had leadership on both sides of the Isle that allowed our jobs to evaporate and almost all of our manufacturing capabilities to disappear. We had unfair trade restrictions like NAFTA and others that gave everybody else the breaks and left us holding the bag. Also failed to be mentioned is the fact that every single nation on Earth has borders that are defended and many are much more strict in that defense than we are. Mexico is one prime example. They have a fence with barbed wire at their southern border and will shoot to kill if any try to sneak into Mexico without going through legal procedures and proper channels. If we think we are helping other nations by allowing them free entry to the U.S.A. we are actually doing the opposite. We often get some of the very people who may be able to help their country achieve the very things that once made America great. Instead we let those people come up here and turn them into dependents on our welfare system. I am not against (LEGAL) immigration. In nearly every other nation, someone who immigrates there has to be financially responsible, have a needed skill for that nation to use. And most of all, not have a criminal background. We must know Who, and Why the people that are allowed in are coming here. Vetting is very important. Otherwise we will turn into the same kind of country they claim to be trying to get away from.

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