Finally, one aspect of immigration enforcement under the Obama administration generally goes unmentioned: the president's role in pressuring Mexico into collaborating by arresting and deporting Central Americans heading north (including families and unaccompanied children) before they reached the border with the United States. In 2014, under growing pressure from Washington, the Mexican government implemented the Southern Border Program. While U.S. law was being repeatedly updated to provide humanitarian treatment to families and children apprehended at the border, when the Mexicans got to them first, they simply deported them.
In 2014, only 3% of the minors apprehended in the U.S. were deported; in Mexico, the figure was 77%, or 18,269. As one report summed up the situation: "The United States is outsourcing its border enforcement to Mexico." As in the United States, so Mexico's increasing militarization and repression on its southern border did not actually slow the flow of migrants. It merely made the voyage far more dangerous, while giving ever more power to smugglers and gangs that now prey upon Central American migrants desperately trying to evade Mexican border controls.
Immigrants, Criminalization, and the Labor Market
Long before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, this "tough on crime" approach to immigration fit into a broader pattern of the criminalization of people of color that fed the prison-industrial complex, made the U.S. the globe's leading incarcerator, and encouraged the proliferation of private prisons. It helped justify the increasing militarization of the police in those years and the over-policing of communities of color. It also fed a national sense of insecurity that contributed to political passivity, disempowerment, and the kind of nativism that Trump has thrived on.- Advertisement -
Criminalization plays a role as well in the country's growing economic inequality. It justifies both high rates of unemployment and low wages among people of color, while warehousing those whose labor has become superfluous. And it plays a particular role when it comes to immigrants and the labor market.
Immigrants actually experience significantly higher labor force participation and lower unemployment rates than the native-born, making them an exception among people of color. However, they earn less ($681 week) than do native-born workers ($837 a week), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for 2015. For employers in recent years, the criminalization of the already unstable status of immigrants (and their inability generally to access social services), makes them a uniquely exploitable and so desirable work force. They tend to be hired to do jobs so dismal, arduous, or dangerous that they fail to attract native-born workers. Anthropologist Nicholas de Genova has suggested that the very "deportability" of undocumented immigrants makes them desirable to such employers.
Meanwhile, the criminalization of people of color and of immigrants in particular lent a distinct helping hand to Donald Trump in his campaign for president, even as it helped the prison-industrial complex and the police justify ever-increasing budgets and employment.- Advertisement -
The Trump administration's multipronged approach to immigration relies on and promotes the criminalization of immigrants. Whether halting the entry of refugees or persons with visas from particular countries, hiring thousands of new ICE and Border Patrol agents, promising to build a "great, great wall," denying federal money to sanctuary cities, or publishing lists of crimes committed by immigrants, Trump's immigration policies follow in the footsteps but also intensify those of his predecessors and continue to create fear, justify exploitation, and rationalize authoritarianism.
Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatch regular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.
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Copyright 2017 Aviva Chomsky