Understanding Secondary Immigration Enforcement: Immigrant Youth and Family Separation in a Border County

By Rabin, Nina | Journal of Law and Education, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Understanding Secondary Immigration Enforcement: Immigrant Youth and Family Separation in a Border County


Rabin, Nina, Journal of Law and Education


I. INTRODUCTION

Jose,1 an eighteen-year-old U.S. citizen, is currently the only member of his nuclear family in the United States. Jose's mother, ten-year-old sister, and two older brothers in their twenties all live in Mexico. Jose has been living with his twenty-one-year-old cousin in Tucson, Arizona for the past two years. During his early childhood, his family lived primarily in the U.S., but then his mother was deported, and they all moved to Mexico. At sixteen, Jose tired of crossing the border each day to attend school in the U.S., so he moved in with his cousin in Tucson, who was nineteen at the time and undocumented.2 Growing up, Jose had planned to go to college and be a police officer. Now, a few weeks shy of his high school graduation, his plan is to work full-time at the grocery store where he is currently employed. His goal is to bring his ten-yearold sister, who is also a U.S. citizen, to live with him. "I want to be stable for her. I already have her bed and everything."3 He also plans to sponsor his mother for a visa as soon as he turns twenty-one.

Young people are at the heart of our country's intense debate over immigration policy. Yet the profiles of youth that dominate the public debate fail to explain their full story-to demonstrate that, like Jose, their lives are inextricably linked to the other members of their families. Instead, the interests and equities of immigrant youth are most commonly addressed in law, policy, and the media as separate and distinguishable in important ways from that of their parents.4 The most notable current example of this is the debate over young people, often referred to as "DREAMers," whose parents brought them to this country as small children and who have received all or most of their education in the United States.5 Although Congress repeatedly has been unable to pass legislation known as the DREAM Act to address their plight, in 2012 President Obama created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provided limited temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrant youth.6 On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that DACA would end in six months, in March 2018.7 The policy and related litigation surrounding DACA and the DREAM Act have generated caselaw, media accounts, and policy proposals that address this population as distinct from that of their parents.8

The widespread reliance on deportation as the primary measure of the impact of immigration enforcement policies exacerbates this false distinction between children and parents in immigrant families. People on both sides of the immigration debate often frame their policy critiques and proposals in terms of deportation figures.9 But this focus on individual deportations fails on two fronts to capture the full impact of enforcement. The first critique of this measure, which has been widely noted,10 is that the numbers do not capture the many people in addition to deportees whose lives are fundamentally disrupted by harsh enforcement policies. Importantly, these people are not limited to noncitizens but include many U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, like Jose, whose family members are subjects of immigration enforcement. Whether family members are left behind or accompany the deported, their lives are irrevocably altered by deportation, yet these impacts are not accounted for in the statistics.

The second way in which deportation statistics fail has not been widely noted or discussed. This research study provides an original insight into how the simple number of deportations fails to capture the ways in which a harsh enforcement landscape exacerbates other sociolegal conditions-including poverty, crime, cultural and linguistic contexts, family dynamics, and educational aspirations-that shape family decisions about where to live and how to spread risk amongst family members. Enforcement intertwines with these factors to result in family separations and traumatic relocations, even when no deportation occurs. …

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