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.