Trump endangering rest of Us to hunt down the Law-Abiding Undocumented

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Gen. John Kelly’s ramping up of deportation measures against undocumented residents of the US, in accordance with Donald Trump’s campaign promises, contains many hidden dangers.

The rational way to deal with long-term unauthorized immigrants would be to offer them a path to citizenship, not waste taxpayers’ money deporting 10.9 million people– the vast majority of whom do essential and backbreaking labor that the native-born eschew. Most people don’t realize that there is no way for someone brought up in the US without citizenship to apply for it. The US needs its immigrants if it is to remain a great power.

If the undocumented residents of the US who have not committed any other crime here become afraid that they will be arrested on sight, this fear will endanger the rest of us.

The undocumented will become less likely to seek drivers’ licenses and automobile insurance, which is a menace to other US residents. California, which has 3 million, convinced 800,000 undocumented residents to get drivers’ licences, a victory for public safety, which could now be undone.

Likewise, in California some 93% of the children of undocumented families are enrolled in school. Some proportion of these children were born in the US and we want them educated as future citizens. But will undocumented parents start avoiding all government facilities, including schools?

It is undesirable that this large population avoid getting vaccinations, or that battered women should fear to go to the authorities. Making law-abiding undocumented people go underground poses substantial health and other risks to the rest of us.

There is also a danger that Trump/ Kelly’s irrational obsession with the law-abiding undocumented will overwhelm local police departments, whether financially or with regard to manpower and jail capacity. Some departments are already announcing that they can’t handle these extra duties.

Trump’s conviction that there is a crisis of illegal immigration into the United States in 2017 is misplaced. There was a crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in some 12.2 million undocumented residents of the US by 2007.

In the past decade, that number has fallen by nearly a million and a half, to 10.9 million. This is true even though the number of deportations fell in 2013 and 2014. (Trump says that there are 30 million undocumented residents of the US, and alleges that 3 million of them voted in the presidential election. These are imaginary numbers much more imaginary than the square root of -1.)

In California, 7% of the undocumented are married to American citizens, and another percentage is married to green card holders. Many have children who are American citizens. Trump’s idea that any significant number are young male gang members with no roots in the US is monstrous in its gargantuan falsity.

That the crisis of unauthorized immigration is a problem of previous decades and hardly so urgent today is demonstrated by the simple fact that 66% of the undocumented have been in the US at least 10 years. In 2014, only 7% of undocumented Mexicans had been in the US less than 5 years.

Under the old rules by which ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) operated, which have now been changed by Gen. Kelly, undocumented people who weren’t near the border and who had not committed a crime were relatively safe from deportation. But it was not as though the Obama administration was sloughing off on deporting the undocumented. In some years Obama deported substantially more people than Bush had in his last year as president.


The old policy was to concentrate on criminals and leave the law-abiding alone. Last year, 92% of all the persons deported after being arrested by ICE agents in the interior of the US had been convicted of a crime (other than unauthorized entry).

Over 2/3s of those deported were arrested in the vicinity of the border, often by other agencies than ICE, including local police. Of these deportees picked up near the border, nearly 60% had also previously been convicted of a crime. That leaves about 100,000 people arrested who had no previous criminal record. Almost all of them were picked up near the border.

But only 2000 of the deportees were known gang members, so these individuals, who loom so large in Trump’s imagination, are a tiny proportion of the undocumented. They were less than 1% of the deported.

Only about half of the unauthorized immigrants who came in during 2014 were Mexicans. In recent years more Mexicans have been leaving than coming into the US.

More of those arriving are from Central America, and they are fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries. In 2016, some 100,000 unauthorized immigrants into the US from Central America claimed asylum because of the danger they faced back home. These asylum claims have to be decided by a judge and take a lot of energy. The US would certainly be better off launching Marshall Plan for Central America and trying to help those countries’ economies grow faster and trying to provide for more democracy and less danger for average citizens. Such steps are the real way to cut down on unauthorized immigration.


Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “US: Anxiety grows among undocumented immigrants”

23 Responses

  1. Thank you again, Juan, so much, for this nice pile of actual facts on this issue.

    The facts on the 99.999+ % of human beings, ever since (large X number) of years past, are of course unknown, but not unimaginable. I would surmise that people moving into unknown and potentially dangerous situations, just because they couldn’t stand the situation at their previous location one day more, is a very constant theme in human history.

    Even in what I call the “era of ancient empires” we have plenty of documentation of individual and group migrations in a wide variety of circumstances for a wide variety of reasons.

    People move. People are going to move. It’s going to continue to happen.

    • “People move. People are going to move. It’s going to continue to happen.”

      Right, but throughout human history 97 % of folks have stayed where they were. Rationally or not, people tend to develop a strong attachment to their homeland, and would prefer to remain there unless forced to do so by extreme circumstances. It should be our goal to allow people to live their dreams of staying in their own country, by doing what little is in our power to make those countries as free and prosperous as possible.

      • Question: What evidence is there for the 97% figure?

        Look at the US: It’s a tricky question to figure out in the US; but 12% of US residents move in a year, looking at a variety of Census and other figures from an internet search. For demographics from 2010-2015, this Bloomberg article was interesting: link to
        The article concludes, “There’s also been a long decline in the percentage of U.S. residents who move each year. “Overall, it appears, not nearly enough Americans are moving to opportunity.”

        I agree, we should do whatever we can to help other countries to be as free and prosperous as possible. For example, don’t take their oil.

        Yet many of the best, brightest and most creative want to move, not stay where they were born. For example, take the Paris art world of the late 19th century. Pissaro, from a Danish W. Indies colony, Mary Cassatt from the US, Alfred Sisley, and later Van Gogh, etc. defined homeland as other than soil. Homeland was a community, in a place, where they can do the best in their calling in life.
        Similarly, the best and brightest in the cyber world are in Silicon Valley, or other such communities on the West Coast. Home is not earth and soil, except, perhaps, for farmers and peoples who daily work and care for land and waters.

        The United States has been peoples in motion from the start; else only the 13 colonies would have been populated.

        Also, many Christians would say that heaven is their true home.

        The English language is fortunate that it distinguishes between house and home, because that helps the understanding that a place and a home aren’t always the same.

        To say that moving within the US is to stay in our “homeland” isn’t so. Moving from Chicago to eastern Iowa, as I did once, was a big cultural change.

        Finally, the only peoples that can call North America homeland are Indians and Inuit. The rest of us are hyphenated Americans.

  2. Endanger is an understatement.

    A pair of memos from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly will take time to implement because of costs (Congress must authorize.) and logistical challenges and that border patrol agents and immigration officers will use their expanded powers with care and discretion to make America white, again.

    link to

    Which also includes hiring 10,000 new I.C.E. deportation police who will no doubt “use their expanded powers with care and discretion.” Exactly to what EXPANDED POWERS does Secretary Kelly refer in the new improved POTUS ethnic cleaning program?

    link to

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    President Obama did not go after those who hire undocumented workers.

    link to

    Under new guidelines, millions of homeowners who use a “Mow Blow and Go” crew or had a roof replaced in 2016 are new FELONS and may be subject to civil and criminal penalties for hiring undocumented immigrant workers. Civil penalties range from a minimum of $375 per unauthorized worker for a first offense up to a maximum of $1,600 per worker for a third or subsequent offense. If you are found to have engaged in a “pattern and practice” of hiring undocumented workers, then you can be fined up to $3,000 per employee and/or imprisoned for up to six months.

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  3. “the vast majority of whom do essential and backbreaking labor that the native-born eschew.”

    Perhaps the native-born wouldn’t eschew it if they weren’t in a race to the bottom of the wage scale with undocumented immigrants and, instead, benefits were allowed to rise through the magic of supply and demand? If meat-packing paid a good salary, with pension & health-care there’d be plenty of native-born people lining up to do it despite it being dirty and dangerous.

    The reason why the Republican party has consistently refused to do anything about immigration is that their main constituency is business owners, the capitalist class, who love more than anything to have what Marx called “the reserve army of the unemployed” to keep labor costs down. Especially if those folks are undocumented and therefore more easily exploitable since they don’t have recourse to the legal system.

    While it’s true that undocumented migrants tend to have lower crime rates (contrary to Trumpian propaganda), being “law-abiding” undocumented is an oxymoron, since their first action as a U.S. resident was to break federal law.

    But here’s the interesting part: if you don’t propose that the U.S. enforce it’s immigration laws, then logically you should be lobbying for changing the laws, and allowing unrestricted immigration, since that’s apparently what you want. Instead you seem to propose maintaining the status quo which is cruel and inhumane since we’re basically forcing people to run a deadly and expensive Darwinian obstacle course before declaring those who survive the crossing “home-free!” That’s pretty messed up — just abolish the border controls and be done with it. However, if a state can’t control it’s own borders, it very soon ceases to be a state in any meaningful sense since it no longer has “citizens” to grant rights to. As you’ve mentioned before, being the citizen of a state is currently the only way to get any rights at all in our current world. So . . . ?

    In any case, I agree with your prescription to: “help those countries’ economies grow faster and trying to provide for more democracy and less danger for average citizens. Such steps are the real way to cut down on unauthorized immigration.” As Edward Abbey put it: “Give them a rifle and a box of ammunition and send them home.”

    Finally, if anyone really wanted to prevent illegal immigration they could do it overnight without a stupid wall and without deportations (but nobody will propose this since both right and left wing politicians are fine with the status quo for different reasons): Implement a $1000/day/employee fine for any business employing an undocumented worker, with $500 of that per day going to whoever tips off the authorities. You’re welcome.

      • Ha. I’d do it for enough cash. But why should one ethnic group get stuck with all the crappiest jobs? Isn’t that a bit . . . racialist?

        • It is circumstance, not race. French Canadians came over to pick potatoes in Maine. Dust Bowl Texans did menial jobs in California, too. The issue is that so far there hasn’t been successful mechanization of strawberry picking so only the desperate will do it. Agriculture doesn’t pay that well, so it is never going to be a UAW job.

    • Native-born Americans will not do those jobs. They literally lack the extensive training (as opposed to immigrants’ experience) needed to be able to survive on such tiny amounts of money, and will soon fall into bankruptcy and thus become a financial burden anyway. They will join or organize their own, all-American drug gangs, like the White meth cookers in the sticks already have. They will prey on each other, regardless of race. Or they will starve and their children will starve and grow up with reduced IQs (a scientific fact), since those jobs we’re talking about can’t be done by unhealthy people down here in the Sunbelt where the illegal action is.

      If they were paid fairly, then the entire economic structure of the South would fall apart, because it’s all about building MacMansions and roads. Raise the price on sprawl, and everything collapses. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, but no one is ready to be the one stuck with the resulting sacrifices.

      Also, as Louis Kelso explained 60 years ago in The Capitalist Manifesto, all of this is irrelevant anyway because automation has been destroying the value of productive non-service labor relative to capital for generations. Technology is inherently rigged against labor markets. But to refuse to utilize the technology is to make your country an irrelevant backwater… kind of what we think Mexico is.

      And the big automation wipeouts are just beginning. A generation is growing up ready to regard the internet as a virtual replacement for the entire flesh & blood retail sector. Services will not be far behind. And that leaves nothing untouched.

      Economic reform will require a bunch of interlocking changes to break out of this quagmire.

  4. Honestly, what (imagined?) problem does this purport to solve? I’m truly baffled.

  5. The rational way to deal with long-term unauthorized immigrants would be to offer them a path to citizenship, …

    Another method would be for the United States ending its practice of helping to create economic and social chaos in countries south of the border and in the Middle East.

  6. Prof Cole. Would love to get your take on what I thought was an absurd and hypocritical segment between MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and journalist Masha Gessen take on whether the U.S. has lost the “Moral high ground”. They used Trump’s comments about “the U.S. is not innocent and we have killers” to divert from crimes against humanity that the Bush and Obama administration’s have committed in Iraq, Libya, Syria by trying to steer clear of a comparison with Russian foreign policy.

    Hope you listen and share your opinion
    Meet the Press: Political News & Interviews with Chuck Todd – NBC …

    link to

  7. Americans are strongly wedded to the concept of efqual justice under the law, if only in appearance if not fact. Including most Republicans and Trump supporters. If they believe that a highly positioned, wealthy individual was getting a pass on immigration scrutiny because of wealth and position, they would expect rectification of same. Such as the case involving the questionable issues of visas, residency and citizenship of one Melanie Trump. No person in our borders should be privileged under the law above another. Melania Trump must be held to exactly the same standards under the immigration laws of this country as her husband seeks to apply to millions upon millions of others within the USA.

    • The Melania story was out during the election and no one complained. Obviously Republicans are not strongly wedded to the concept of equal justice under the law. Many believe that an unequal caste system like our sacred forefathers had will naturally be rigged in their favor more than existing market economics have proven to be. Thus complaining about privileges is simply a weapon to use to destroy the enemies of one’s tribe. The elites of one’s tribe are given a free pass in the belief that it will somehow advantage the tribe in its struggle to dominate all others. Of course, that requires that the elites deliver that advantage, but discrimination is easy.

  8. I’ll reduce this to a lower common denominator. You won’t be finding any Trumpsters lining up to buy lawnmowers and shovels to do their own yard work or applying for jobs to spread hot asphalt in August. It’s been my experience that immigrants don’t walk off the job early on Friday and call in “sick” on Monday with a hangover. The vast majority are better employees than your average angry American. Mass deportation is not the answer.

  9. There is no real “undocumented” problem.

    What there is, is a very real white, christian, rural loss of both social and economic power that they can not emotionally deal with in a rational way.

    Due to technology, the “heartland” and south of the USA are losing eco0nomic power because most of the jobs that were done by “warm bodies” (humans with less than an AA degree or a Journeyman certificate) have been eliminated by technology. There is no reason for any company to operate in the Midwest or south when the few highly skilled workers they need are on the coasts where living is better.

    So the Midwest and south are depopulating, which angers the people still left there. While they would never take any of the jobs “undocumented” people do because the jobs are beneath their dignity, they resent that the “undocumented” have jobs when the white people don’t and the white people can’t process being angry at the white people that have screwed them

    Coupled with the loss of economic power the people in the Midwest and south also see humans that are darker than them getting more political power because of demographics and they resent the fact they will have to share power instead of being the”master.”

    This really is about emotions driven by delusions and racism so reality and facts are useless with the people screaming the loudest about “undocumented” people.

    This is really about shifting economic and social power and for over 1000 years humans have not dealt with it very well. The losers always fight to the death and he winners eventually get so tired of the resistance, they often mistreat the losers when the power shifts far enough. Humans are rarely capable of transferring power in a rational manner, especially when there is caste shift mixed in.

    • When Robert E. Lee took over the Southern army during the Peninsular Campaign, he found that he couldn’t get his men to dig trenches because that was work “unfit for a White man” – meaning slaves only. It took a few horrific slaughters, the Battles of the Seven Days, for these working-class Southerners to appreciate the value of a shovel.

  10. POTUS obsession with nuclear weapons endangers the entire planet.

    Now this – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he wants to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its weapons capacity.

    link to

    Apparently, no one has told the new President that cruising silently beneath the oceans there is sufficient nuclear firepower to kill every living thing on the surface of the planet, THRICE.

    In an actual thermonuclear exchange there is no reloading possible.

  11. Top Ten Places Where Trump Supporters Should Direct Blame for Lost Jobs

    10) A preference for “maximizing shareholder value” that took off in the 1980’s and made companies get valued for stock, not quality of service or skill.

    09) The rapid mechanization and automation of industry that removed and/or changed jobs faster than workers could re-train.

    08) The continuing flow of young people from rural communities to big cities.

    07) An increase in global trade and global corporations so that a garment worker in Cleveland, Ohio who makes $12.00/hour is competing with a garment worker in Shenzhou, China who makes $3.00/hour.

    06) The emergence of labor contractors who can find workers around the world and bring them to the United States on H1B and H2B visas.

    05) The creation of job “pipelines” that exist within closed systems where foreign contractors provide legal foreign workers—farm workers from Honduras; IT workers from India; mall kiosk salespeople from Israel; etc. The American citizens who are outside those pipelines will never get those jobs; there is no system to apply for them.

    04) The preference for Human Resources staff to hire locally when possible; most workers are reluctant to move without the promise of a job, but if they don’t move, they won’t get a crack at local jobs.

    03) The use of computers (applicant tracking systems) and detailed background checks to weed out most resumes, so it’s almost impossible to make a cold-call job pitch to a real human.

    02) The need to use networking for most hiring; if you don’t know the right people, it doesn’t matter that you have the right degree or skill; if you are trying to move into a new field, you may lack the contacts to make the transition.

    01) Hiring manager niche bias, i.e. young and attractive college kids for wait staff and retail sales; tall males for management positions, etc.

    Undocumented immigrants have next to nothing to do with the above. If the Donald succeeds in chasing out millions of undocumented folk, there will be labor contractors on the other side of the border with schemes to get those folk back over to the states as indentured servants with legal work visas.

    • #09 – Technology is eliminating jobs at an exponential pace, which means that no matter how many workers we “retrain,” most will NOT be employable. This is the BIG problem demonstrated by a small five person company able to have multiple millions of revenue. It just does NOT take very many humans these days to create and make a highly profitable product or service. The USA (and the world for that matter) has a huge excess of humans that we do not need.

      #08 – The kids are going where the jobs are. If a person is starting their career, why wouldn’t they do that, especially when it is so obvious there is no future in the rural areas. Most jobs these days are IP based and companies locate where they have the biggest pool of skilled brains, so the brains move to where the jobs are. If the older rural people were not so “stuck in the past,” they would also improve their brains and move to where the jobs are.

      #07 – Global trade is nothing new. Remember the original Silk Road? The major changes are (1) the USA military invented shipping containers that make movement of goods super efficient and cheap – the last quote I got to ship a 40′ container from Hong Kong to LA or SF was less than US$1800. (2) the USA military invented a high speed global digital communication network that allows everyone on earth to share all the world’s knowledge. Basically, there is no going back no matter what trump wants, especially since no country is self sufficient in all the goods and services that are needed for humans to survive today.

      The hiring problems you mention (#01 – 06) are actually a problem all over the world, not just in the USA, but the USA tends to have these problem in higher quantities. Part of the reason for these poor hiring practices is the excess of humans has caused employers to look for the mythical IDEAL employee instead of a reasonably good employee.

      Basically the rural people in the USA are permanently screwed by forces that no POTUS or congress critter can control. Until they embrace socialism, instead of emotionally lashing out at the world, their lives will just get worse. There is a very valid reason why socialism is he dominant for of governance on the earth – it works best.

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