Most deportation studies focus on the impact on deportees themselves, but my colleague at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), Alejandra Marchevsky, and I explored these questions and documented the costs of deportation by studying its impacts on families, households, and communities in Southern California. Our data suggest that mass deportation is costing both the federal government and society much more than we might imagine. Because concern for the human rights or well-being of immigrants does not seem to compel many “Americans” to question mass deportation, we want to present a clear argument against it by explaining the costs and dangers it poses to society.
Our research began when Marchevsky noticed that many of our students were struggling with parents who were in detention, facing deportation, or already deported. The impacts on students ranged from anger and depression to anxiety and panic; they had to figure out how to support their families, and in many cases became heads of household while finishing their degrees. She and I worked with students to develop a survey and interview schedule to document the impacts of deportation on our local communities. We completed 125 surveys of individuals who have had a close friend or family member deported, and we continue to conduct interviews. Our random sample closely mirrors the national population of deportees, in that most of the deportees in our study were men from Mexico and Central America, who had been in the US for a decade or longer. Almost one third had Deferred Enforcement for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, while 10 percent were legal permanent residents and the rest were undocumented. About half of the deportations occurred because of federal enforcement through workplace raids and checkpoints on streets in local neighborhoods. The rest happened as a result of interactions with local law enforcement, particularly traffic violations and DUI.
Deportation affects many household members in the US, including wives, children, and dependent parents. In our sample, over 60 percent of deportees left children, most of whom were US citizens, here. Affected households in our sample lost between 500 and 3,000 dollars monthly in income, and on average 7,000 dollars in personal property (i.e., household items and automobiles); in some cases they lost their homes. Compounding the loss of income, family members typically send between 200 and 500 dollars per month for a time period to help the deportee survive. Households adjust to the deportation of a family member and lost income through a variety of strategies. Many of the families in our sample were forced to move to smaller and cheaper housing or to move in with family members, which leads to overcrowding. Thirty-seven percent of our sample had to rely on government support—usually food stamps—to survive. Adults and teenagers work extra hours or take on new jobs, which compromises their ability to complete their studies.
“Maria” is a representative example of how deportation causes extreme precarity for US-based households. She was 40 years old when her husband was deported to Mexico for driving without a license. She has two US-born daughters who were in high school and elementary school at the time of the deportation. Maria works to sustain her children, but they were evicted from their home and now live in a rented garage with her siblings, mother, and children. She sends money to her husband, and her older daughter got a job to help the family, but fell behind in her schoolwork. Maria said that her daughters “are very depressed because they are daddy’s girls… Our everyday life is very different without my husband. It feels like our family has been broken and no one can fix it unless he can come back.”
At a community level, the economic and social costs are clearly far more profound than current policy or scholarship recognizes. Seventy percent of the deportees surveyed paid income taxes before deportation. In addition to a shrinking tax base, local communities lose the income these people provided to their households. Because of diminished income, households in our study curtailed spending on housing, education, cell phones, clothing, eating out, and entertainment, again negatively impacting local economies that provide these goods and services. Beyond the already high costs of immigration enforcement to municipal, state, and federal budgets, there are the hidden costs of deportation. Among these are costs of welfare to families and to the schools where most of the children in our study received counseling services and support. Finally, there will be future losses as young people impacted by deportation experience limitations on their education and training, leading to declining workforce potential.
Our findings reinforce the importance of studying policy regarding mass deportation from the vantage point of the families and communities affected by it rather than the state apparatus that imposes it. The impacts on our brilliant students—manifested in depression, anxiety, difficulty graduating, and uncertainty about their future—alone should be enough to problematize the forced removal of millions of people from their homes, and underscore that to ignore the hidden economic and social costs of deportation to society is at our own peril.
Beth F. Baker is Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. She can be reached at [email protected].
Cite as: Baker, Beth F. 2017. “The Hidden Costs of Mass Deportation.” Anthropology News website, September 28, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.632