Deportation risk hasn’t been the same for all undocumented Mexican immigrants

Mexican nationals walk across the Gateway International Bridge into Mexico after being deported by US immigration authorities on February 24, 2021 in Matamoros, Mexico. (Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

No matter the US political climate, young, single, and less educated men seemed to be at higher risk for deportation than other undocumented Mexican immigrants from 2001 to 2019, according to a new study.

For the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed deportation and voluntary return migration data encompassing the administrations of US Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

“Even through the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric advocated deporting all undocumented immigrants, particularly from Mexico, the characteristics of Mexican immigrants deported during the Trump years were not dramatically different from previous administrations,” says lead author Heeju Sohn, assistant professor of sociology at Emory University.

The researchers examined trends in socio-demographic characteristics of undocumented  immigrants from Mexico deported by the US along with those who chose to return to Mexico.

While the study does not predict or offer any absolute probabilities, it provides insight into relative potential risks. On average, each administration annually deported about 893,000 people with the majority of them Mexican citizens.

“Despite each administration’s differing approach and rhetoric, who was actually being deported or deciding to leave didn’t change all that much,” Sohn says. “Just because an undocumented person voluntary leaves the US doesn’t always mean they felt they had a choice in that decision either.”

Fewer immigrants were deported annually during the Trump administration than under Obama or Bush who had the highest number of deportations. During Obama’s first term, there was an increase in deportation of Mexican immigrants with criminal convictions but that percentage decreased in the last two years of his presidency.

While Trump’s administration prioritized all undocumented immigrants for deportation, the result shows deportation focused more on young adults and those with less education, groups which already face higher deportation risks.

“Policy makers and the public need to understand the consequences of the immigration policies that are implemented—whether they work or not,” says coauthor Anne Pebley, a faculty fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Population Research.

“While the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies had many negative effects on immigrants and Americans, they did not do what they were apparently intended to in terms of deporting a larger and more diverse group of undocumented immigrants.”

The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and heightened enforcement didn’t appear to motivate a more diverse group of undocumented immigrants to leave voluntarily. Rather, voluntary return migration to Mexico was a trend that began early in the Obama administration after the great recession of 2007-2009, according to the study.

“People who are leaving or being deported do not exist in a vacuum,” Sohn says. “You can’t isolate them separately from the social and family connections they have interwoven in US society. So, what happens to undocumented people that society has neglected has a direct effect on the well-being of US citizens. We have a duty to not discriminate and there is a need for additional research.”

The experiences of undocumented children living in the US is a blind spot in national data; the youngest age group in this study is 18 to 31.

“Moving across countries is a disruptive life event,” Sohn says. “This is an age group where people take major steps as adults—finding a partner, having children, or establishing a career. This can have reverberating consequences for the rest of their lives.”

For the study, Sohn and colleagues combined deportees’ and voluntary returnees’ data from both sides of the border—the Migration Survey on the Borders of Mexico-North (EMIF-N) and US Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). It’s the first time these two major sets of data were combined for research purposes and studied in a novel way.

“It was critical that we understood the nuances of the data and sampling strategy. We took a lot of time and effort making sure our method accounted for the differences,” Sohn says.

“This is part of a bigger desire to make sure the lives of underrepresented groups have adequate representation,” she adds. “A lot of the research in social sciences are based on large data sets that don’t put much focus on the smaller groups or ones that are harder to measure. I hope getting this important topic published will get visibility to a wider audience.”

Additional coauthors are from UCLA and Princeton University. The NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded the work.

Source: Emory University