Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Immigration Experiment Under the Microscope: Very Costly, Unintended Consequences

Another community reports that its effort to rid itself of immigrants, ends up costing dearly.  For some the goal is to GET RID OF both legal and undocumented immigrants.  (It's pretty easy to call this Racism.)  For others it is an unintended consequence.  Either way, the community pays, both financially and through lost enrichment of life.

“The Hispanic businesses and malls are empty. You used to see 100 people at the shopping center, and after the resolution, you'd see five. You noticed the difference."

This quote describes the fallout from Prince William County’s polarizing local immigration law which was passed in 2007 and modified in 2008. A three-year, $385,000 University of Virginia study of the policy released this week found that it drove out a significant number of immigrants—both legal and undocumented.
Under the original policy, local police were directed to check the immigration status of any individual they had probable cause to believe was in the country without authorization. After much controversy, Prince William limited the measure in 2008 to require police officers to check the immigration status of all arrestees.
Clearly, Prince William’s immigration actions cost the county the contributions of thousands of immigrant taxpayers, workers and consumers. From 2006 to 2008, Prince William’s non-citizen Hispanic population dropped by 22 percent, or by 7,700 people. During the same period, the undocumented population decreased by an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people.
Immigration hawks are quick to separate legal from undocumented immigrants; we’re told harsh laws aren’t anti-immigrant because they only target undocumented immigrants. The UVA study shows us that this is a naïve assumption. Too often, restrictive immigration enforcement and the corresponding policy debates also impact legal immigrants and the broader Hispanic community.

Whether UVA’s findings are indicators of the policy’s success or troubling evidence of collateral damage depends on who you ask. For county supervisors, driving out legal immigrants and Hispanics was never a goal of the measure, but an “unintended consequence.” For others, this was a victory. From the report:
Some actors in the drama of the resolution’s passage had quite different goals. Some in the community who advocated the policy made clear…that they were hoping to “take back the County” by reversing the tide of rapid in-migration of Hispanics to Prince William County.
Immigration restrictionists also counted this as a win for “attrition through enforcement,” a strategy that calls for crafting harsh laws to make life so untenable for undocumented immigrants they choose to leave—an approach best described as “a product of delusion and cruelty.”

Should other localities follow Prince William’s approach to immigration enforcement? The authors conclude that their results should be only applied to other jurisdictions with “great caution.” ..... Moreover, these less-than-stellar results cost Prince William almost $3 million to implement. One author of the study advises would-be copycats: “This not a free policy…Don’t try this if you don’t want to spend some money.”
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