Even as the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has plateaued at around 11.1 million people, federal enforcement of immigration law has intensified over the last decade. Close to 400,000 people have been detained and deported each year since 2009, and an estimated 34,000 detention beds are available every day. New initiatives such as the Secure Communities program, which checks the status of people booked into county jails in participating jurisdictions,have added another layer to the web of Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other immigration agents operating across the country.
On top of these federal efforts, some states and localities have passed their own anti-immigrant laws, such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070—the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act—and Alabama’s H.B. 56—the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. These laws seek to criminalize all aspects of undocumented immigrants’ life and behavior.
But while proponents of harsh enforcement policies or so-called attrition through enforcement feel that making life as difficult as possible for undocumented immigrants will push them to “self-deport,” the reality of immigration policy today is far more complicated. Separating the documented from the undocumented is not as simple as it seems, since undocumented immigrants do not live in walled-off families, buildings, neighborhoods, or even cities.
Instead, undocumented immigrants live, work, and go to school alongside the documented. While there are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, for example, a total of 16.6 million people live in mixed-status families, where members have various legal status, including undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens. Immigration enforcement affects far more than just undocumented immigrants—it touches the lives of all people living in the United States.
As we illustrate in this report, it is not simply enforcement actions themselves—detentions, deportations, raids, or traffic stops under S.B. 1070, for example—that affect undocumented immigrants and their communities, but it is also the ever-present fear of enforcement actions. The expansion of immigration enforcement, and the concurrent stigmatization of immigrant status that comes with it, pushes even those with legal status to fear that their loved ones could be deported. Those with temporary legal statuses, such as deferred action or Temporary Protected Status, also fear that they too could be victims of detention or deportation.