Self Deportation is a term that’s been thrown around lately in the Republican presidential debates, and Americans are starting to wake up to what, exactly, its code for. Self Deportation is the theory that if you make life in America economically and socially unbearable for illegal immigrants that those immigrants will choose to return to their home countries of their own cognizance. Sounds really simple, like so many Republican ideas. Of course, so many Republican ideas are “simple” because they just choose to ignore huge swathes of reality. Its way easier to write simple legislation when you don’t care about secondary consequences or human consequences. It continues to baffle me why the party that votes to ruin women’s lives by denying them birth control or abortions on the basis of protecting life is the same party which feels its morally ok to inflict human suffering on a vast scale just so long as its directed against “the other”. Self Deportation is a casual and off-hand way to declare a policy of intentionally inflicted suffering and targeted economic ruin.
Self Deportation is a monstrous theory, never mistake otherwise. Self Deportation relies, at its heart, on a policy of creating fear. The idea is that fears of the authorities and the inability to find jobs will cause immigrants to turn tail and run for home. There’s a problem though, that means we need to create a fear apparatus to scare them away. It means local police forces will have to become draconian enforcers of immigration law in order to create the needed climate of fear. It means that laws will need to be passed to force suspected illegals to produce citizenship documents on demand, laws your local police department will be obliged to enforce. In order to create the culture of fear needed to cause people to Self Deport a whole host of laws would need to be passed that crush civil liberties even further. Many Americans are already expressing intense concern at the militarization of their police departments, making police officers the cogs of a machine designed to instil fear in a sub-section of the population does not bode well for good community policing.
Making local authorities objects of fear and distrust has many painful secondary consequences for communities. When a subsection of a community, in this case illegal immigrants, becomes unwilling or unable to interface with local authorities it can lead to problems that overflow into the larger community. When illegal immigrants know that calling the police will lead to intimidation and possibly deportation their incentive to report crimes plunges towards zero. This leads to people being abused by spouses who can never ask for help because the cost of help is deportation. It leads to gangs using illegal immigrant neighbourhoods as safe bases, secure in the knowledge that the locals are too scared to call for police help. It leads to children not receiving health care because their parents are scared to take them to a hospital for fear ID will be demanded. When local police become immigration enforcers and instruments of fear the focuses of their departments change. Police departments worrying about keeping budgets flowing by busting illegals are not going to be well focused on investigating crimes or patrolling neighbourhoods. Your local police should be there to protect you, not to create an environment of fear so stifling it causes people to long for their former third world homes. Self Deportation may remove the burden of tracking down and deporting immigrants from the federal government but it forces local police departments to become the bad guys instead. Local police departments have to serve a very different role in protecting their communities and dealing with local details than does a federal agency, they should not be made Agents of Fear.
The idea of Self Deportation also ignores some pretty serious economic realities. How would a family, pushed to the economic brink by tough immigration laws blocking them from finding work, find the resources to move back to their home country? The scary part of course is that for many of these immigrants an America steeped in hatred for them is still a better economic environment than their home nation. As long as their countries of origin are crushing their citizens lives with fear and unfair economies we will be in a constant arms race to see who can make their country worse. Who can make their country the least positive place to live? Who can make their country the most unsafe to raise children in? Who can create the most fear of being stopped by authorities? Who can create the most fear of reporting being raped? Who can create the most fear of asking for help when you are sick or injured? If your goal is to make your community a worse place for these people to live in than the slums of a dictator ruled, economically stagnant third world nation its going to be an ugly race to the bottom. Even if you hate illegal immigrants and have bought into the lunacy that they are somehow ruining YOUR life, you need to ask if that is the America you believe in. Do you really want an America where people are scared to report crimes? Do you really want to live in a country which is intentionally trying to force families into economic ruin in order to chase them home? How many of those people do you think will go back to horrible living conditions as compared to, say, considering how much more they could make pursuing a life of crime here in the U.S.? Laws that create desperate people are never good for you, ever. Unless you are so rich you have a private security force you should always ask some hard question about any law designed to push your neighbours into poverty. Poverty tends to breed desperation, and desperation breeds violence. (And fear leads to hate which leads to the Dark Side, but Republicans missed that lesson too.)
Self Deportation is a typical Republican offering: Simple, totally ineffective, and full of horrible secondary costs that will ravage communities while leaving the concept’s mostly rich and mostly white sponsors totally isolated from the consequences. Self Deportation relies on creating suffering and misery here in America so awful that it will cause life in a flagging, third world economy to look appealing. That can’t possibly backfire, right?