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Chris Abraham

Dr. Lyn J. Freymiller

CAS 138, Sec. 011


The Case for Keeping Law-Abiding Unauthorized Immigrants

There was never any question that candidate Donald J. Trump intended to take a hardline

stance on illegal immigration if elected president. Days after his victory on November 8, Mr.

Trump voiced tough measures clearly and bluntly on 60 Minutes, heralding the swift removal of

approximately 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants either with criminal records or

engaged in criminal activity (Schultheis). Concerning deportation of unauthorized immigrants

not involved in crime, Trump vaguely replied that his administration would make a

determination once borders were secure (Schultheis). Still to this day, governmental intentions

regarding the legal status and deportation of law-abiding undocumented immigrants remain an

enigma. At times, Mr. Trump has considered granting legal status to undocumented immigrants

who have not committed serious crimes (Henderson). Despite this possibility, recent reporting

by The New York Times has exposed the detainment of undocumented immigrants with no

criminal history at all (Kulish, Dickerson, and Nixon). Such frivolous deportation is

counterproductive towards the pursuit of American goals and prosperity. It is wrong for the

United States government to deport law-abiding and established immigrants who simply lack

proper documentation. By correcting public misconceptions concerning the character and

identity of unauthorized immigrants, the authentically American spirit of this population and

their largely positive economic contributions to the United States become clear reasons to allow

these people to stay.

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Possibly the most pervasive misconception concerning the character of illegal immigrants is

the association between undocumented immigrants and crime. Studies have displayed how

widespread this sentiment is; a Pew Research study published in November of 2016 found that

27% of registered voters believed that undocumented immigrants are more likely than U.S.

citizens to commit serious crimes (Gramlich). With such a view, it makes sense that one would

be in favor of deporting or removing unauthorized immigrants. After all, what American citizen

does not value national security? Yet, these reasonable motives are not fueled by objective

evidence. In fact, a team of researchers from the American Immigration Council discovered the

false nature of this perception both historically and currently:

For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful

truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely

to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of

immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This

holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized [. . .]. (Ewing, Martnez, and


Additional research by the National Bureau of Economic Research also supports these findings

for non-citizens: In fact, immigrants have much lower institutionalization (incarceration) rates

than the native born - on the order of one-fifth the rate of natives (Butcher and Piehl). Though

incarceration rates are not a perfect indicator of criminal activity, Butcher and Piehls work

seems to suggest that illegal immigrants pose no greater risk to public safety than the American

citizen. Based on the research discussed, it is clear that the association of undocumented

immigrants with increased rates of criminal activity is not justified.

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In addition to misconceptions concerning the integrity and character of unauthorized

immigrants, the identity of these people may be just as distorted in the public eye. Calls for

deporting illegal immigrants often relate back to the idea that unauthorized immigrants are not

American. Such nationalist sentiment is the foundation for labels such as illegal or criminal

alien. However, undocumented immigrants may possess a more American identity than many

may think. Though measuring how American one is can be difficult to perform objectively,

one indicator could be the amount of time one has lived in the country. Applying this measure to

the population of undocumented immigrants, researchers Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S.

Passel, and DVera Cohn of the Pew Research Center discovered that undocumented immigrants

are established inhabitants of the United States: A rising share of unauthorized immigrants have

lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. Expanding upon this discovery, it was found that over

half of the population of undocumented immigrant adults living in the United States in 2016 had

been in the country for over 13.6 years (Krogstad, Passel, and Cohn). Based on these findings, it

seems plausible that a majority of undocumented adults are well-established peoples who are

committed to staying in the United States. Using the indicator of time spent in the country,

undocumented immigrants pass the American test.

Even beyond just numbers, it also appears that the characteristics of undocumented

immigrants align with those of the legal American citizen. In a report published in 2009 by the

nonprofit research organization Public Agenda, researchers found that the families of

undocumented immigrants assimilate well by adopting the American way: Immigrants buy in

to American society, for themselves and their children (Bittle et al). Could anything more be

asked of the legal American citizen? And for those who define America as a nation of English

speakers, research on this front of assimilation is also promising. Findings from a 2014 report by
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the U.S. Census Bureau support this optimism: Many foreign-born individuals with long

periods of residence in the United States speak English well (Gambino, Acosta, and Grieco).

Pairing this finding with data discussed earlier, it is possible that this proficiency would apply to

the majority of undocumented immigrant adults, most of whom have lived in the country for at

least a decade (Krogstad, Passel, and Cohn). Truly, the line between undocumented immigrant

and American citizen may be more blurred than defined.

Yet arguments over how American undocumented immigrants are distract from the real-

world implications of deporting this population. Specifically, one must think of the interpersonal

implications. Because humans are social creatures, it would be safe to say that any typical

person would develop many friendships and close relationships over the span of a decade in the

United States. Now, lets frame this generalization in the context of a law-abiding undocumented

immigrant in America. After almost ten years living in the country, lets also pretend that this

one undocumented immigrant has made a conservative number of four close friends. Although

he or she is responsible and otherwise law-abiding, lets now say that this immigrant has been

deported after being caught at a traffic stop. In this one case, four bonds of attachment have been

severed. Though this is sad, maybe this loss is seen as insignificant or simply tough luck. But in

reality, if every responsibly-behaved undocumented immigrant were to be deported from the

United States, this one case would be multiplied by millions. It then becomes clear that an

incredible number of close relationships and friendships will be terminated if these measures of

general deportation are enacted. Mass deportation is, in reality, mass disentanglement.

Despite these more humanitarian reasons for not deporting unauthorized immigrants, it is fair

to wonder if the presence of undocumented immigrants actually provides any benefit for the

people and government of the United States. Though much research has been done on the effects
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of U.S. immigration in general, it seems that less has been done concerning illegal immigration

besides analyzing the economic impact of undocumented immigrants. Yet, even working within

these limitations, research seems to support the case for keeping these unauthorized peoples.

The most important way in which undocumented immigrants benefit the economy is by

bolstering the labor force. Especially in key areas of industry, undocumented immigrants are of

staggering value and importance: Compared with their 5% share of the civilian workforce

overall, unauthorized immigrants are overrepresented in farming occupations (26%) and

construction occupations (15%) (Krogstad, Passel, and Cohn). As can be seen from these

statistics, unauthorized immigrants make up about a quarter of the U.S. farming labor force! The

economic consequences of deporting all of these people would be enormous. Reporter Brian

Grow and other writers for Business Week magazine sum of the effects of such deportation

grimly, noting that some U.S. industries have become so dependent on illegal labor that a

wholesale expulsion would be crippling (51). In fact, such a vacuum of labor could not be

replaced even if every unemployed American citizen were to take these vacant jobs (Smialek and

Case). Assuming that these immigrants are largely law-abiding, America has much to lose by

deporting these people.

Beyond their key role in the labor force, unauthorized immigrants also contribute directly to

local, state, and federal governments. At the local and state level, a recent report by the Institute

on Taxation and Economic Policy reveals the large sums of money paid by the undocumented:

Undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying

an estimated $11.74 billion a year (Undocumented Immigrants State). Expanding upon

these numbers, Adam Davidson of The New York Times provides additional evidence of the

enormous funding of social programs that is made possible by the tax dollars of undocumented
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immigrants: Over the years, undocumented workers have contributed up to $300 billion, or

nearly 10 percent, of the $2.7 trillion Social Security Trust Fund. Based on this data, it seems

reasonable to assert that unauthorized immigrants greatly support key areas of industry and

contribute tax money just like any other American citizen. In turn, deportation of these hard-

working men and women would have several undesirable implications for the United States


As examined, it would be an irrational and unadvisable decision for the United States if the

government were to deport all undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding from

within our borders. In reality, many of the misconceptions that fuel deportation of these

unfortunate people are toppled by objective research. Whether speaking of character, integrity,

or cultural identity, unauthorized immigrants in the United States generally fit the mold of an

admirable American citizen. Especially in terms of economic function and prosperity, it also

appears that the presence of these people seems to be largely beneficial for the nation. At its

most basic level, my argument seeks to demonstrate the following: undocumented immigrants

can be trusted to contribute to and embrace American society just as any naturalized or native-

born citizen. Does this mean that undocumented immigrants are Americans? Well, not on paper.

It would be correct to say that unauthorized immigrants do not have an official birth certificate,

social security number, or U.S. passport. In this sense, these people are not truly Americans

citizens. But the more research that is done, the more it becomes clear that the spirit of these

men, women, and children compensates for whatever documentation they lack. The heart of

America beats within the population of productive and law-abiding undocumented immigrant.

Perhaps it is time to give these people the place in America that they have earned. After all,

Americans belong in America.

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Works Cited

Bittle, Scott, et al. A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Life In America.

Public Agenda, 9 Sep. 2009. PDF File.

Butcher, Kristin F. and Anne Morrison Piehl. Why Are Immigrants Incarceration Rates So

Low? Evidence on Selective Immigration, Deterrence, and Deportation. National

Bureau of Economic Research, July 2007. PDF File.

Davidson, Adam. Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy? Magazine. The

New York Times, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.

Ewing, Walter, Daniel Martnez, and Rubn G. Rumbaut. The Criminalization of Immigration

in the United States. Research. American Immigration Council, 13 July 2015. Web. 1
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Apr. 2017.

Gambino, Christine P., Yesenia D. Acosta, and Elizabeth M. Grieco. English-Speaking Ability

of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2012. United States Census

Bureau, June 2014. PDF File.

Gramlich, John. Trump Voters Want to Build the Wall, But Are More Divided on Other

Immigration Questions. Fact Tank: News in the Numbers. Pew Research Center, 29

Nov. 2016. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.

Grow, Brian et al. Does Illegal Immigration Harm America? Illegal Immigration. Ed.

Margaret Haerens. United States of America: Thomson-Gale, 2006. 45-52. Print.

Henderson, Barney. Donald Trump Suggests He Could Grant Legal Status to Millions of

Undocumented Immigrants in Major Policy Shift. News. Telegraph Media Group

Limited, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel, Jeffrey S. Passel, and DVera Cohn. Five Facts About Illegal

Immigration in the U.S. Fact Tank: News in the Numbers. Pew Research Center, 3

Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.

Kulish, Nicholas, Caitlin Dickerson, and Ron Nixon. "Immigration Agents Discover New

Freedom to Deport Under Trump." U.S. The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 22

Mar. 2017.

Schultheis, Emily. "President-elect Trump Says How Many Immigrants Hell Deport." CBS

News. CBS Interactive, 13 Nov. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Smialek, Jeanna and Brendan Case. What Would Happen to the Economy If Trump Got His

Way. Bloomberg: Markets. Bloomberg L.P., 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.

Undocumented Immigrants State & Local Tax Contributions. Institute on Taxation and
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Economic Policy, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.

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In the days following November 8, 2016, many Americans found themselves wondering what

to expect from the new Trump administration. The public did not have to wait long for answers,

as the typically outspoken and newly victorious Mr. Trump participated in a 60 Minutes

interview on November 13. At first, the conversation with CBS Lesley Stahl passed in small

talk. Once the questions reached matters of policy, however, Trumps words took on new

meaning as possible action instead of campaign promises.