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Immigrants at Risk

Unauthorized: Why Did They Enter the U.S. without Permission?


U.S. Subsidized Corn Allowed in NAFTA
Put 2 Million Mexican Farmers out of Work


Currently immigrants at risk of deportation comprise unauthorized immigrants, those granted a deferred departure, and immigrants holding green cards who have committed crimes no matter how long ago. The first, are mainly Latino immigrants, who crossed the border to the U.S. for reasons similar to those of the Swedish, Norwegian,1 German and Irish2 immigrants who arrived on our shores three and four generations earlier. These earlier immigrants came for the opportunity to own farmland in the 19th century and for industrial and mining jobs in the early 20th century, and sometimes for religious freedom. They were not required to have visas, and did not undergo a long vetting process before they were allowed to enter our country, but registered upon their arrival at Ellis Island.


corn on the cob mixed colorMexican immigration increased following the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which allowed the U.S. to subsidize corn that industrial agriculture companies exported to Mexico at 19% below the cost of production.3 NAFTA put around two million Mexican farmers out of work,4 as cheap, subsidized5U.S. corn imports shot up from 2 million tons in 1992, two years before the treaty, to 10.3 million tons in 2008. Monthly income for self-employed farmers in Mexico fell from 1959 pesos a month in 1991 to 228 pesos a month in 2003. (See One America Power Point Presentation here.)  Mexico's pork imports increased 25 times6 from 30,000 tons in 1995 to 811,000 tons in 2010. The steep loss in farm jobs led to the loss of additional jobs for other workers who had served the needs of Mexican farmers.


The increased migration of displaced Mexican corn farmers was predicted by Karen Lehman,7 Senior Fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), when NAFTA was under consideration by Congress in 1993. NAFTA was designed by large corporations and industrial agricultural businesses without regard to how the trade policies would impact local communities. R. Dennis Olson, Senior Analyst at IATP wrote,"NAFTA has greatly benefited transnational agribusiness at the expense of farmers, consumers, and sustainable food systems. While Mexican farmers lost most of the profit they had been making and the U.S. lost 245,000 or 22% of small scale farmers (under $350,000 gross income), Cargill's profit increased by 660% from 1998-1999 to 2007-2008.9The U.S. Farm Bureau, reports that U.S. agriculture depends on 1.5 to 2 million farm workers. 50 to 70% of them are unauthorized, p. 710 and in MN, comprise 51% of laborers on dairy farms.10  The following chart shows the migration of Mexicans that occurred after NAFTA and before the recession.


migration mexicous

 Chart from Ben Lilliston, "NAFTA Renegotiation: What's at stake for food, farmers, and the land," the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2017, p. 7.

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Deferred Departure

Young People Brought to the U.S. as Children
and Immigrants Who Came to the U.S. as a Result of Civil War


Two groups of immigrants who might face deportation were granted extended stays in the U.S.  First are young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. President Obama gave them an opportunity to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status. The time extension is two years. The Trump administration cancellled the program last September. It left it up to Congress to produce a solution for the young immigrants before their permits expired.  Groups on both sides of the issue have turned to the courts with New York and California federal judges deciding in favor, a Washington case in favor of DACA currently in court, and 9 states led by Texas attempting to end DACA for good.1


A recent Congressional Budget Office report estimated that one bill, the DREAM Act of 2017, would increase the federal deficit by almost $26 billion over a decade. The bill would make an estimated 2 million potential beneficiaries and relatives they could eventually sponsor for residence eligible for education and other benefits.2  That amounts to an average of $13,000 a person in benefits, which is approximately equivalent to a year of K-12 education, a quite modest investment given that the U.S. gains an additional person in the labor force who will add to the growth of American business and will pay state and federal taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security for a lifetime.  Later topics on the cost deportation and the lifelong cost of mental health care and services for adults who have suffered brain impairment due to the toxic stress they experienced in childhood due to separation from their parents will show that taxpayers would have to pay far more for deportation of unauthorized immigrants than the much more limited cost of services immigrants would need had they been allowed to become permanent residents and citizens.


A second category of immigrants with extended stays who are at risk for deportation are the Liberian immigrants who came to the U.S. because of Civil War. They were originally in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status and received Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) extensions since 2007 from both Democratic and Republican Presidents.   Last March, President Trump extended the Deferred Enforced Departure date for Liberians to March 31, 2019.  About 4,000 Liberians in Minnesota will receive the DED extension.  They are hoping that the U.S. Senate and House will pass legislation that gives them permanent residence and a path to citizenship.

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Residents with a Green Card and Prior Crime


Major Change in 1996 Immigration Law
Failed to Distinguish Minor from Major Crimes

Until 1988, noncitizens could be deported from the United States only after a hearing before an immigration judge in which the non-citizen could raise one of several bases for canceling their deportation orders. These included the extreme hardship deportation would cause to the noncitizen or to his family members, family ties in the U.S., length of residence in the U.S., service in the armed forces, a history of stable employment, and a probability that the noncitizen would experience persecution if returned to the country of removal.  The order for deportation became final only if the immigration judge found the non-citizen failed to meet any of these bases for cancellation.  The noncitizen could appeal the judge's decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and if the Board didn't reverse the original immigration judge's decision, the citizen could make another appeal to an independent federal court.1

Immigration law followed this pattern until the major changes passed by Congress in 1996.  While the prior law had allowed seven-year lawful permanent residents who committed crimes to seek discretionary relief from deportation from an immigration judge by showing negative factors were outweighed by positive factors, Congress took a wholesale approach and eliminated the hearings altogether in the 1996 immigration law.  Legislators tended to lump all non-citizens convicted of crimes into one category—neglecting the fact that the legislation under consideration would include legal residents with minor offenses and would have a major impact on their US citizen family members.1  Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii expressed deep concern  that these provisions expand authorization for deportation of aliens without any association with crimes of violence or terrorism.2  Senator Edward Kennedy stated, "It applies to all criminal aliens, regardless of the gravity of their offense .... whether they are murderers or petty shoplifters."3  President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, but commented, "These provisions eliminate most remedial relief for long-term legal residents....”4


.  "Forced Apart: Families Separated and Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy."  Human Rights Watch, Volume 19, Number 3 (G), July, 2007.


2. “Conference Report on S. 735, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,” Congressional Record, vol. 142, no. 55, 104th Congress, 2nd Session, page E645, April 18, 1996 (Ms. Mink).

3. Congressional Record, vol. 141, S 7803, 104th Congress, 2nd Session, (Mr. Kennedy).

4. William J. Clinton, “Statement on Signing the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,” Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 32 (April 24, 1996), p. 720.

"Undocumented" is not a state one chooses

When Are We Going to Create the Line?

julissa arceJulissa Arce worked her way up to become the vice president at Goldman Sachs by age 27 while being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. When she gives lectures at colleges and universities, people often ask, "Why don't 'illegals' get in the back of the line, and do it the right way?"  She notes that "the line" is a mythical place that distracts from the need for immigration reform.  Most undocumented immigrants cannot complete an application, go through a process, or pay a fine to start the process of becoming U.S. citizens. Julissa Arce suggests, "If we want undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, go through background checks, and seek legal employment, we should focus on actually creating 'the line.' The question shouldn't be, why don't illegals get in the line, the question we should be asking ourselves is, when are we going to create the line?"1



1.  Arce, Julissa.  "Here's the myth about being an undocumented immigrant that drives me crazy."  CNBC, February 24, 2017.



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In June 2012, Think Again MN launched a history series that examines politics and policy-making in Minnesota during the last century from the immediate post World War II years up through the 1990s. That era witnessed fierce legislative battles at the State Capitol but it was also a time of shared values that cut across partisan lines. 

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