Become a Patron! 


Angela M. Banks

Abstracted from: Angela M. Banks, The Curious Relationship Between “Self-deportation” Policies and Naturalization Rates, 16 Lewis & Clark Law Review 1149 (Winter, 2012) (395 Footnotes)


      Governor Mitt Romney has stated that the country's immigration problems can be solved through “self-deportation.” Arizona and states throughout the Southeast, like Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, agree. For example, K-12 public schools in Alabama are required to ascertain the immigration status of all enrolling students. Police officers in Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia check the immigration status of all individuals booked into jail. Additionally, in Arizona, Alabama, and South Carolina, if during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that an individual is not lawfully present, the officer is required to ascertain the individual's immigration status. These states also require employers to use E-Verify to ensure that individuals hired are authorized to work in the United States.

      These “self-deportation” laws and policies, also known as immigration enforcement through attrition, are designed to discourage and deter unauthorized migration. Yet these policies are having a broader impact; they are creating a hostile context of reception for all immigrants, regardless of immigration status. Social scientists have found that immigrants' structural and cultural environment--their context of reception--plays an important role in shaping immigrants' incorporation patterns, including naturalization rates.

      Based on this social science research I offer a new argument about the impact of sub-federal immigration enforcement. Immigration scholars have focused on the legal authority of states and localities to enact immigration-related laws, the use of racial profiling in local immigration enforcement, and a breakdown of trust between law enforcement officials and immigrant communities. It is my contention that the growth of state and local “self-deportation” laws and policies may discourage eligible immigrants from naturalizing. Naturalization rates for Mexican immigrants have remained disproportionately low. In 2010 only 10% of the 619,913 immigrants who naturalized were from Mexico. This is despite Mexican immigrants accounting for 32.2% of immigrants eligible to naturalize.

      The use of racial profiling to implement “self-deportation” laws and policies shapes immigrants' perceptions about the value of citizenship. It reveals that ethnicity, foreignness, and immigration status are often conflated, and that the social benefits of citizenship are not equally available to all. Recognition of this reality may cause some immigrants to conclude that the benefits of naturalization do not outweigh the costs.

      This Article proceeds in five parts. Part I explains the growth of local immigration enforcement and its concentration in the Southeast. This region of the United States has experienced rapid demographic changes due to immigration, which has prompted state and local government officials to become more active in immigration enforcement. Part II argues that immigrants naturalize in order to take advantage of the social and material benefits of citizenship. Immigrants' structural and cultural environment, their context of reception, provides information about whether the social and material benefits of citizenship will be available to them. Part III describes one aspect of immigrants' context of reception--state and local immigration enforcement policy. Part IV demonstrates that racial profiling and minor traffic violations are key aspects of state and local immigration enforcement strategies in the Southeast. Part V contends that these strategies create a hostile context of reception and reveal that citizenship may not provide all of the expected social benefits. “Self-deportation” policies may successfully deter and discourage unauthorized migration, but it may come at the cost of fewer Latino immigrants naturalizing and becoming formal members of U.S. society.

* * *

      Immigration enforcement is undoubtedly an important goal, but so is the incorporation of immigrants. The growth of “self-deportation” policies undermines Latino immigrant incorporation. The use of racial profiling and minor traffic violations in immigration enforcement is contributing to a hostile environment for Mexican immigrants, which reduces the likelihood that eligible Mexican immigrants will naturalize. The disproportionate use of pretextual traffic stops in Latino communities perpetuates the idea that those with a Latino appearance are foreign and likely unauthorized. The connection made between Latino appearance, foreign birth, and immigration status suggests that a change in citizenship status absent a change in ethnicity will do little to facilitate the social and economic mobility expected to come with citizenship.

      Social science research has demonstrated that decisions to naturalize are shaped not only by the material benefits of citizenship, but also by the social benefits of citizenship. Immigrants obtain valuable information about whether immigrants are welcome, whether the host society values immigrant contributions, and whether acceptance and mobility will be possible from the structural and cultural aspects of their environment. Immigrants are more likely to naturalize when they believe that they will be able to take advantage of the full range of citizenship benefits. Further research is needed to determine how immigrants value the material benefits of citizenship compared to the social benefits. Are there contexts in which one set of benefits outweighs another? Are certain types of material and social benefits more important than others? Empirical research on these and related questions will assist in developing immigration policy that better balances our society's desire for enforcing federal immigration law and facilitating immigrant incorporation.

      Efforts to enforce federal immigration law and identify unauthorized migrants are felt by citizens, authorized migrants, and unauthorized migrants when ethnicity is used as the primary, or a significant, factor. The use of this strategy may enable ICE to identify a greater number of unauthorized migrants, but it will come at the cost of alienating potential citizens and limiting the incorporation of Latino immigrants in the United States.

. Associate Professor, William & Mary School of Law