“Self-Deportation” Devastates Families and Communities

building wallsNew Report Examines Dire Consequences of “Attrition through Enforcement” Immigration Strategy

Federal immigration enforcement resources have increased significantly in recent years, as have the number of deportations. Meanwhile, states have passed harsh immigration laws intended to crack down on unauthorized immigrants. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has announced that he supports a policy of “self-deportation.” What do these things have in common? The belief that making daily life miserable for undocumented immigrants will result in “self-deportation”—or “attrition through enforcement.”

new paper this week out of the Immigration Policy Center connects the dots between the strategy of “attrition through deportation” and federal and state anti-immigrant proposals and explains how attrition through enforcement has gone from being a catchy phrase coined by immigration restrictionists to a frightening reality in many parts of the U.S.

Self-deportation and attrition through enforcement are not new ideas. The term “attrition” has been used by restrictionists since at least 2003. Attrition through enforcement is a deliberate comprehensive immigration-control strategy that aims to make everyday activities so difficult for unauthorized immigrants that they will decide to leave on their own, and future unauthorized immigrants will be deterred when they hear how difficult life is in the U.S.”

The strategy comes from national immigration restrictionist organizations, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and Numbers USA. They have sought to market the idea of attrition through enforcement as a kinder, gentler alternative to the harsh, expensive, and unworkable strategy of mass deportation. They also appeal to those concerned with overblown budgets claiming that attrition will be less expensive than deporting 11 million people. They say they’re just enforcing current law, but in reality, they are creating new laws new penalties for violating those laws.

While attrition through enforcement might, at first, seem more reasonable than mass deportation, the goal is the same—make sure all unlawfully present immigrants leave the US, regardless of how long they’ve been here, how rooted they are in their community, and how many US citizen family members they have. The result has been undermining human rights, devastating families and communities, hurting local economies and placing unnecessary burdens on all Americans.

While not every state legislator who is legitimately concerned with unauthorized immigration or who introduces an immigration-related bill is promoting a national strategy of attrition through enforcement, it’s not too hard to see that some state laws are part of an organized strategy. Arizona’s SB1070 says right in the law that the “intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.”

State Senator Scott Beason of Alabama stated that his recently passed law “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life” and is “designed to make it difficult for them to live here.”  Alabama’s state Representative Mickey Hammon said his law “was not designed to go out and arrest tremendous numbers of people. Most folks in the state illegally will self-deport and move to states that are supportive of large numbers of illegals coming to their state.”

The harsh anti-immigrant laws have had serious repercussions. In Alabama, for example, according to various reports, unauthorized parents took their kids out of school, they refuse to seek medical services, fear going to church, they don’t drive anywhere, their access to water service has been threatened. Some employers have refused to pay their workers, judges and court interpreters threatened to report suspected unauthorized immigrants.

Proponents of attrition through enforcement have made it clear that these are the intended consequences of the law. These are designed to make life in the state unbearable for unauthorized immigrants.

michele waslinWe need to ask ourselves whether this is the type of country we really want to be. Is “making a community so inhospitable that people will choose to leave” really the type of policy we want to support?  I think we can do better, and Congress must work to pass immigration reforms that truly address the underlying problems in the system and maintain our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Michele Waslin
Immigration Impact 


  1. -Nate says

    I fail to see why it’s so bad to make them want to leave .

    I married an Illegal Immigrant , she then worked hard to get her green card and has never once taken any Social Support from America ~

    These are the people we need as immigrants , not fence jumpers .


  2. Annette says

    While I do not fault those who break into our country to try to gain the benefits our government offers, I do blame liberals who offer these enticements to illegal aliens. Why are we giving illegal aliens free housing, free heat and air conditioning, free food, free education, free medical care, free college, and of course, free legal help to beat the system and stay in our country? No wonder more keep coming every day.

    We need to stop encouraging illegal immigration and refocus on employing American citizens and legal residents instead. We all get cheated when we allow corporations to employ illegal aliens. Our whole workforce suffers, since illegal aliens are unwilling to report employers for illegal workplace practices. These dishonest employers who hire illegal aliens have are getting away with not paying their employee taxes such as workers compensation and Social Security.

    Our ancestors struggled and many even died to establish America’s employee rights such as minimum pay and worker safety rules. But instead of standing up for our hard earned rights, liberals like Michele Waslin keep pushing for policies that degrade them by helping illegal aliens work and live in our country. All she and her organization are really doing is helping dishonest companies continue to make huge profits from cheap labor.

  3. James says

    Nation of immigrants for sure. . .

    The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty gives us the reason for all of these measures being taken against the Criminal Trespassers. . .

    “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Notice that the line says, “beside the golden door,” not, “over the golden fence.”

    We don’t need immigration reform – we need gun towers along the border – no amount of “reform” is going to change the criminal behavior of the border-jumpers. . .

    Current Immigration Law is a pretty easy way to pre-vet those seeking entry – if they stand in line and go through proper procedures, it’s a fair bet that they’ll treat other laws with the same respect – if their first act of entry is a crime, it’s a good indication that they’ll treat other laws with the same cavalier attitude. . .

    Illegals cost the State of California $10Bn-$13Bn more per year in social services than the most Pollyanna-ish estimate of their “contributions” (which is in the neighborhood of $20Bn/yr).
    Add to that the fact that now we’re *all* expected to work for Criminal Trespasser Wages, and the cost to the People of the State of California becomes truly astronomical.

    You want reform? Here’s some reform for you. . .

    If a business hires an illegal. . . they get fined $10k a head, after which the business gets confiscated and sold at auction (as it was used in the commission of a crime). The owner does 5 years in the pokey.
    If a person rents to an illegal. . . they get fined $10k a head, after which the house/apartment complex is confiscated and sold at auction (as it was used in the commission of a crime). The owner does 5 years.

    In all cases, the illegals (and their kids, no matter *where* born) get sent back over the fence with a boot or a .50cal round in the ass. . .

    You Criminal Trespasser Apologists crack me up.

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