Who Benefits?

Norma, a single mom, was walking with her kids one night when she was arrested for trespassing on private property. The charges were later found to be baseless but she was deported anyway. Her 16-year-old daughter is now looking for a job to support the family. Norma’s 9-year-old son cries himself to sleep at night.

Daniel, who fled Mexico in the 1990s to escape violence, was pulled over for a faulty exhaust system on his car and subsequently put into immigration detention. He had no criminal record and served as a community safety volunteer. Daniel’s 13-year-old son is pleading for his dad to stay in the U.S.

Nazry immigrated to the U.S. with legal documentation in 1993. In 2005 he was sentenced to probation for a minor drug conviction, subsequently, he worked at a homeless shelter and helped others with addictions. Six years later Nazry was put into detention – for a harrowing 313 days.

Each day, more than 30,000 undocumented immigrants are held in detention in the U.S. and approximately 1,000 are deported. Who benefits from this situation?

Are our communities made safer? None of the individuals above are a threat to public safety. This is true for the vast majority of those deported. Local sheriffs say immigration enforcement policies, in fact, make communities less safe because they cause immigrants to be afraid to report crimes.

Do U.S. taxpayers benefit? It costs $168/day to keep someone in detention. Additionally, when a mother or father who is the primary breadwinner in a household is detained or deported, other members of the household who are U.S. citizens, particularly children, often end up depending on public assistance. In recent years more than 5,000 children have been placed into foster care after the deportation of a parent.

Until the U.S. Congress passes an immigration reform bill, money will continue to be wasted and families will continue to be separated. So, who does benefit from the status quo? One group is the private prison contractors who run most immigrant detention facilities. In recent years, they have made very nice profits.

Who else benefits from the status quo? You do. Undocumented immigrants probably picked or handled some of the food you consumed today – and that food was cheaper because undocumented immigrants are often paid very little for long hours of work. They may have cleaned your office or helped to build your home. They care for our young children and our aging parents. Recent immigrants, documented and undocumented, do all these things and more. Too often, they are invisible to us as we go about our daily lives.

The Senate immigration reform bill includes protections for immigrant workers and allows them to get on a path to citizenship. But it has stalled in the House.

In Leviticus 19:33-34, the Israelites are encouraged to welcome immigrants into their communities and to treat them with dignity and kindness. In God’s abundant wisdom, God asks the Israelites to always remember the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and not revisit this cruel treatment upon others.

The next time you encounter a recent immigrant, ask yourself: In how many ways does that person’s life intersect with mine? In how many ways might that person have benefitted my life, or the life of a loved one?

Now ask yourself how you might benefit theirs. Then pick up the phone and ask your member of Congress to pass an immigration reform bill now.

Posted: 6/13/2014 7:00:00 AM

Interested in more analysis from the MCC Washington Office? Sign up to receive our free quarterly newsletter, the Washington Memo, as well as our monthly electronic newsletter, the E-Memo.