The Zero Tolerance Policy toward Illegal Immigrants as a Social Injustice
The issue of illegal immigration in the United States is not just a political consideration but it has become such a controversy that the topic has extended to other issues germane to the concerns of other disciplines and areas of social institutions. This issue is so pervasive and divisive that it has become an issue that presents a social injustice. The reason why illegal immigration is considered the fomenting of a social injustice is because a certain minority population (Mexicans) is being targeted for retribution and deportation, and this selective segmentation is continuing to result in negative outcomes and personal consequences to those being targeted. It can also be surmised that the current "Zero Tolerance" policy was a reaction to Mexicans coming into the country illegally, even though this has been going on since the 1960s. The issue of illegal immigrants and immigration is a hot-button social issue in the United States. The current administration is vociferous in its intent to keep out and deport illegal immigrants. The social injustice being foisted on illegal immigrants, particularly those who are Mexican nationals, is becoming so egregious that families are being wrenched apart. This research examines the current state and status of illegal immigrants and immigration in order to provide a better understanding of the issues surrounding the issue.
A Brief Overview of the Topic
The continuing controversy of illegal immigrants is of special concern to the current administration. The President continues to discuss the building of a wall to separate Mexico from the United States, and, through what can be construed as punitive actions, has targeted illegal immigrants only from Mexico. This is being done by detaining these people and placing them in what amounts to interment camps. The current paradigm is also to separate children, some under the age of five, from their parents. This is a recent phenomenon; Mexican nationals have been crossing the border into the United States in the modern era beginning in the 1960s.
A Brief History of Modern Immigration
Mexican citizens began entering the United States illegal in appreciable numbers back in the 1960s. This infusion was the result of the ending of the Bracero Guest Work program that ceased to exist in 1964. The Program brought about 5 million Mexicans into the country primarily as itinerate farm laborers. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, between 12-20 million illegal Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s. This trend continues unabated, as Krikorian (2011) writes that "The estimated 850,000 new illegal immigrant arrivals each year is about as large as the highest level of legal immigrant admissions in our history before the current mass immigration was unleashed by the 1965 Immigration Act (with an average) of 880,000 admissions per year from 1901-10" (Krikorian, 2011 para 1). During the second half of the Bush (W.) administration, new measures were implemented to deter Mexicans from coming into the country. These included building security fences at the U.S./Mexico border, doubling the number of border security patrol personnel, increasing efforts through screening programs to verify employment eligibility, and helping to foster state and local government programs to help support and enforce immigration laws (Krikorian, 2011 para 4).
As of 2014, the estimated number of illegal immigrants in the United States is 11.1 million, and about one-half are from Mexico ("Facts on Immigration," 2017 para. 4). Since the other half are non-Mexicans, it seems odd that none of these illegal populations are being singled out for detainment and/or deportation.
Those Who Have Suffered from the Social Injustice
The current administration has made the subject of illegal immigration, specifically when it concerns those coming from Mexico, a platform issue of law reforms and, indeed, what appears from a humanitarian perspective, to be a retributive one as well. As a result, the media have picked up and run videos of speeches made by the President and others acting on his behalf within the administration, and the media have also been running news items on the targeting of Mexican immigrants. As mentioned, it is only those who are illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico who are being subject to placement in relocation camps, and whose families are being separated. Some children, even very young children, are being put into other camps, away from their parents and loved ones. There are no stories about illegal immigrants from European or Asian countries being treated in this same manner. This is causing what Valentino, Brader, & Jardina (2012) refer to as "immigrant opposition," and it is occurring as a prejudice manifesting in whites against Mexicans and other Latino people. The sociological construct for such prejudiced attitudes is ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism is a belief system whereby a person thinks the ethnic or cultural group to which he or she belongs is superior to others. Having this attitude is typically accompanied by a disdain for another ethnic or cultural group. According to Valentino, Brader, & Jardina (2013), it is ethnocentrism that is guiding immigration policy more so than economic considerations. They come to this conclusion based on studies of media coverage, statistics, and data taken from germane studies from the years 1992 to 2008. What they ultimately conclude is that "(W)hile ethnocentrism dominated economic concerns in explanations of White's immigrant policy opinions, attitudes toward (Mexicans) in particular account for nearly all of the impact of ethnocentrism since 1994" (Valentino, Brader, & Jardina, 2013 p. 149). However, the economic consequences are not always found to create animus toward immigrants. There are variants and inconsistent evidence regarding how illegal immigrants impact or influence the economics of the country.
Economic Costs and Social Costs of Illegal Immigration
There are two economic forces at work when it comes to the impact of illegal immigrants: the aggregate fiscal impact that places a burden on the economy by increasing the size of the welfare state, and market competition, which positions cheap, immigrant labor as a threat to certain jobs. This first concern, however, was found by Valentino, Brader, & Jardina (2013) to only affect the views of citizens in individual states (such as California which has a large illegal Mexican immigrant population) but not necessarily the country as a whole. As to market competition creating economic concerns, it appears that opposition to immigration occurs mostly in individuals who believe their jobs are directly threatened by immigrants who are willing to perform those same jobs for less money. Citizens who are "better off" financially do not appear to exhibit the same concerns. However, illegal immigration is found to have a negative economic impact on state and local government budgets, but not national budgets. According to the Internal Revenue Service, about six million illegal immigrants do file tax returns, and the Congressional Budget Office reports that 50-75 percent of "unauthorized" immigrants do pay federal, state, and local taxes. (An "unauthorized" immigrant is a person whose visa permit has expired, and that person remains in the country illegally; however, this is not typically the case with immigrants coming from Mexico.) ("The Facts on Immigration," 2017 para. 5). The social implications of illegal immigration are even more difficult to estimate and ascertain.
As mentioned, the population being targeted for deportation is Mexicans, specifically Mexican men; however, the Dept. of Homeland Security has not released statistics on deportations since 1997 (Golash-Boza & Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2013 p. 274). The targeting of Mexican men seems to be based on sex and ethnicity because the percentage of female immigrants is slightly more than that of men as of 2017, with 51% being female and 48.6% being male ("Facts on Immigration Today," 2017 para. 5). It is hypothesized by some scholars that this population is being targeted because of suspected criminal associations or backgrounds.
According to Inda (2013) "(T)he Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Criminal Responsibility Act (IRCA), (have laid) the foundations for this targeting of immigrants" (Inda, 2013, p. 292). In addition, the IRCA also makes it criminal for someone to hire any workers who are undocumented. Current law also provides a requirement that the U.S. Attorney General be made to deport illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, and to do so as swiftly as possible. This is what has led to the current "Zero Tolerance" policy from the U.S. Attorney General's office.
The Zero Tolerance policy was enacted in 2013 with the Obama administration and was received with bipartisan approval. The policy gives no room for discretion in making it mandatory for illegal immigrants who have committed crimes to be automatically deported. However, there are many cases whereby such immigrants have been in the U.S. for years, if not decades, and have not committed any crimes. There may even be benefits to the communities in which such people reside. Automatic deportation denies these people a "second chance," and America advocates for second chances on average (Hing, 2013 p. 142). Ironically, Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbant (2015) found that "Higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates" and "Immigrants are less likely to be criminals than native-born (citizens)" (Ewing, Martinez, & Rumbant, 2015 p. 1).
Recent Changes in Social Attitudes/Public Opinion
The current administration continues to be highly and vocally opposed to illegal immigrants, particularly Mexicans, and the President is opposed to them both entering or staying in the U.S. The media have jumped on this political bandwagon and have made the issue one of utmost importance by continually using the subject as content. The negative slants toward Mexican immigrants is fostering greater ethnocentrism in the nation. As Valentine, Brader, & Jardina (2013) write "General ethnocentrism seems to be a power antecedent of immigration opinion, typically displaying larger effects than economic concerns" (Valentino, Brader, & Jardina, 2013 p. 149). This attitude, coupled with recent historic events, have also helped to shape negative attitudes toward even legal immigrants, particularly against those of Mexican or Latino ethnicity. Only in the most recent past has the issue of separating children from their parents and placing them in different detention centers caused a social outcry; however, it is not as loud as the cries against illegal immigrants, or of the support of the current administrations policy and position on the issue.
Current Political Movements and Legislation
The House passed a bill in 2017 that would increase prison sentences for illegal immigrants, and also a bill that increases pressure on the designated "sanctuary cities" if they continue to welcome illegal immigrants and provide something of a refuge for them, as well as increased pressure to comply with federal immigration laws. There are, however, social movements of a more positive nature such as the U.S. Immigrant Rights Movement that has been in existence since 2004 and continues to champion the rights of immigrants. The Movement seeks to effect reform and promote inclusion, while legislation seeks exclusion.