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Perspectives on Immigration

Perspectives offers fresh ideas and alternative viewpoints on immigration policy from writers inside and outside the immigration debate.

Back to the Future: The Impact of Legalization Then and Now

While there are many facets to an intelligent immigration reform package, one thing is clear: legalization for undocumented immigrants helps all of us.  Most economists recognize that legalization has worked in the past.  After a significant percentage of the undocumented population legalized under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), information on IRCA applicants was used to assess the legislation’s impact.  My own research has shown that IRCA provided immediate direct benefits by successfully turning formerly clandestine workers into higher-paid employees. Other researchers have shown that IRCA provided unexpected indirect benefits to the communities where legalized immigrants resided.  After legalization, fewer of these immigrants sent money back to their home countries, and those who sent back money sent back less.  More of their earnings were spent in their communities in the United States.  Research also showed that the legalized population became participating community members—nearly two out of five people who legalized under IRCA were U.S. citizens by 2001.

What we learned from IRCA gives us a bird’s eye view into what we can expect to happen with a new legalization program. By examining three areas of concern: work, family, and community, we can see what economic and social benefits would be derived from a legalization program in 2013.

By Sherrie A. Kossoudji, Ph.D.

Published On: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 | Download File

AIC's Michele Waslin Testifies before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

On August 17, 2012, Michele Waslin of the American Immigration Council testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The hearing explored the "Civil Rights Effects of State Immigration Laws." The testimony was given in Birmingham, Alabama on August 17, 2012.

Published On: Fri, Aug 17, 2012 | Download File

How to Fix a Broken Border: A Three Part Series

In this three part series, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard assesses current threats to our border security and calls for a coordinated, multi-dimensional, bi-national approach to cracking down on cartels. Goddard's suggestions for federal action include targeting cartel money, closing money-laundering loopholes, pursuing cartel leaders, and focusing border security on ports of entry.

Download the Executive Summary

Published On: Thu, May 17, 2012

Falling through the Cracks

How Gaps in ICE's Prosecutorial Discretion Policy Affect Immigrants Without Legal Representation

By Joan Friedland

While the Obama administration’s has expanded use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases, the subject of immigrants without legal representation and their ability to access this discretion remains unresolved. In 2011, nearly half of all immigrants in removal proceedings appeared “pro se,” or without legal representation. While immigration attorneys can explain the effect of these policies to their clients, pro se immigrants may be unaware that new policies are even in effect. Immigrant advocates have thus been rightly concerned about whether pro se immigrants in removal proceedings will benefit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) prosecutorial discretion policies.

This paper lays out what immigration authorities can do to ensure that pro se immigrants understand what prosecutorial discretion is, how they can seek it, and what they should do after receiving (or not receiving) an offer of it.


Published On: Mon, May 14, 2012 | Download File

The Myth of "Self-Deportation"

How Behavioral Economics Reveals the Fallacies behind “Attrition through Enforcement”

By Alexandra Filindra, Ph.D.

The concept of “self-deportation” rests on a deceptively simple premise. According to its supporters, if the federal government invests more in enforcing immigration laws, and if states and localities take on additional immigration control responsibilities, the costs and risks of staying in the United States will increase substantially for undocumented immigrants. Faced with a high risk of being caught and imprisoned, “rational” undocumented residents will “give up and deport themselves” returning to their home countries rather than remain in the U.S.

However, preliminary evidence from studies conducted in states where such enforcement laws have been enacted shows that immigration restrictionists have gotten it wrong. Immigrant population in these states has remained in place and the predicted exodus never materialized. Economic factors, rather than enforcement, have played a far more important role in reducing the rate of undocumented entry into the United States.

This report uses important research findings from cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to explain why restrictionists have gotten it wrong and people do not behave in the “rational” way that restrictionists expect them to.

Published On: Mon, Apr 30, 2012 | Download File

Proportionality in Immigration Law: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime in Immigration Court?

By Michael Wishnie, Esq.

 Proportionality is the notion that the severity of a sanction should not be excessive in relation to the gravity of an offense. The principle is ancient and nearly uncontestable, and its operation pursuant to diverse constitutional provisions is well-established in numerous areas of criminal and civil law, in the United States and abroad.

Immigration law, however, which is formally termed “civil” but is functionally quasi-criminal, has not previously been subject to judicial or administrative review for conformity to constitutional proportionality principles. Yet it is undisputed that the Due Process Clause—one of the sources of the proportionality principle in American law—applies to immigration proceedings.

This Perpsectives suggests that understanding the use of proportionality in criminal and civil law offers immigration practitioners a new way to challenge the status quo, particularly in cases where the underlying basis for the removal order and the resulting consequences of removal are so disparate. Applying established proportionality principles, attorneys and policymakers can both argue for a more sane and balanced approach to immigration enforcement, one that measures the relative nature of an immigration offense against the severity of the current removal system, while securing judicial review of individual removal orders for consistency with constitutional proportionality requirements.

Listen to Michael Wishnie discuss this paper: 


Published On: Wed, Apr 11, 2012 | Download File

Latinos in North Carolina: A Growing Part of the State's Economic and Social Landscape

By Hannah Gill

North Carolina has become a hub of Latino migration to the South. While many think this migration came suddenly, North Carolina has, in fact, been welcoming and integrating Mexican and other Latino migrants for generations. Over the last three decades, the Latino population in North Carolina grew from less than a half percent of the total population to 8.4 percent—more than 800,000 people.  North Carolina, which now has more agricultural guest workers than any other state in the nation, has contributed to a quickly growing national population of 50 million Latinos, now the largest minority group in the country. But much is at stake for Latinos, native and newly arrived, as the state and region experience demographic transformation.

The polarized nature of the current immigration debate has made the steady growth of Latinos in North Carolina more noticeable and more politically charged. The role of Latinos in North Carolina, however—as workers and residents—is an important and over-looked story of how North Carolina continues to grow and evolve in a changing economy and world.Read more...

Published On: Wed, Mar 21, 2012 | Download File

The Politics of Skill: Rethinking the Value of "Low-Skilled" Immigrant Workers

By Natasha Iskander and Nichola Lowe

The political discourse surrounding the incorporation of immigrants into the U.S. labor market tends to sort immigrant workers into two broad and mutually exclusive categories: high-skilled workers who are valued by many for their contribution to economic growth, and low-skilled workers who are viewed by some as causing a glut in the U.S. labor market and thereby displacing low and middle-income native-born workers. For the most part, these categories are structured around formal education. Workers possessing a level of formal education equal or superior to the median in the United States are on one side of this divide, while workers with less formal education than that threshold are on the other. Most current proposals favor expanding immigration opportunities for those immigrants with high levels of formal education.Read more...

Published On: Thu, Mar 15, 2012 | Download File

Improving the Naturalization Process: Better Immigrant Integration Leads to Economic Growth

Anyone who has ever attended a naturalization ceremony cannot help but be moved by the power of the moment. The participants enter as men, women, and children of diverse countries, but leave the room as citizens of one—the United States. For many, the path to that naturalization ceremony has been long and arduous, irrespective of whether they entered the United States as wealthy entrepreneurs or as refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The process of obtaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, and ultimately U.S. citizenship, is often daunting. A new country, new rules, high costs, and little targeted support for new immigrants makes what should be a journey of exploration and opportunity one that may be frustrating and lonely. Consequently, in order to focus on ways to improve the naturalization process itself, we must take a step back and consider the nature of immigrant integration in the United States. The better our integration policies—and the sooner they begin—the more likely we are to improve the rate of naturalization. 

Published On: Mon, Sep 19, 2011 | Download File

Guns, Drugs, and Money: Tackling the Real Threats to Border Security

By Josiah McC. Heyman, Ph.D

The external borders of the United States matter to security, but how and in what ways is neither automatic nor obvious. The current assumption is that borders defend the national interior against all harms, which are understood as consistently coming from outside—and that security is always obtained in the same way, whatever the issue. Some security policies correctly use borders as tools to increase safety, but border policy does not protect us from all harms. The 9/11 terrorists came through airports with visas, thus crossing a border inspection system without being stopped. They did not cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Future terrorists would not necessarily cross a land border. U.S. citizens and residents, and nationals of Western Europe, also represent an important element of the terrorist threat, and they have unimpeded or easy passage through U.S. borders. Fortified borders cannot protect us from all security threats or sources of harm.Read more...

Published On: Mon, Sep 12, 2011 | Download File