Most Immigrants Are Women: Does the Trump Administration Want to Deport Them, or Just Keep Them Working for Low Wages?

By Laura Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

It’s always been unclear whether the goal of the Trump White House was to limit the number of undocumented immigrants in this country, or just to terrorize them and keep them as vulnerable, underpaid workforce, and the recent debate about DACA underscores that fact.

Our economy relies on immigrant labor, and needs it to be cheap—and not just for the reasons most people think. The majority of immigrants to the United States, and nearly half the undocumented population are women, and many of them are doing household labor—cleaning, caring for children, elders, and others who cannot care for themselves. They’re not doing it so the rest of us can have more down time—far from it. On average, everybody is working more. As real wages have declined, the middle class has hung on by throwing more adults into the labor force, mostly women. In 1960, 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of U.S. children live in households where all the adults are employed. So who’s doing the household work? Business certainly has not picked up the tab; workers in the U.S. aren’t even guaranteed sick days, never mind childcare. We haven’t raised taxes for government to pay for it, either. Indeed, the most revealing moments in the debate over the Affordable Care Act repeal were when Republicans admitted that to get Medicaid costs down, sick elders needed to get out of nursing homes and go back to living with their families (read: daughters—Paul Ryan sure wasn’t planning to go part-time to care for his mother.)

So for the whole economic calculus to work—in which women must work, but get paid less than men (to the benefit of their employers), and we don’t raise taxes to pay for government programs, something had to give. This was the brilliance of the 1990s crackdown on undocumented immigrants: it ensured that there a class of women who could be paid even less than women who were citizens, at exactly the moment when the economy most needed them. During the Clinton administration, three key things happened. Walmart became the largest single employer in the country, owing much of their “efficiency” to women’s low wages. The controversy over Zöe Baird’s nomination as attorney general—“Nannygate”—launched a nationwide enforcement crackdown on immigrants without papers, beginning with the couple that Baird was sponsoring for green cards, Lillian and Victor Cordero. And the number of middle class households hiring nannies and housekeepers began to grow exponentially.

Immigration enforcement of the sort the U.S. has been doing since then doesn’t necessarily mean all undocumented immigrants get deported. It may just make them vulnerable, trapping people in exploitative jobs. One mother of triplets told the New York Times why she wanted to hire someone who was undocumented: “I want someone who cannot leave the country… who doesn’t know anyone in New York, who basically does not have a life. I want someone who is completely dependent on me.” While some households just wanted to employ someone who was reliable and “affordable,” others were abusive and even violent. A 2012 study of household workers in fourteen cities found abysmal working conditions, with many reporting sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Among live-in nannies, many did not even have their own bed; they were expected to sleep with the children in their care. There was also widespread wage theft, with 67% earning less than minimum wage. While race was also a factor, the single best predictor of how much people got paid was immigration status, with undocumented workers earning the least.

There’s a surprisingly clear case to be made that the Trump administration, for all its sound and fury, is not terribly interested in deporting large numbers of people. It’s not only Donald Trump’s personal history of hiring undocumented workers—the fact that Trump Tower was built by people without papers and that his modeling agency relied on them—it’s also what’s happened since he took office. For one thing, when his transition team discovered that his pick for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, had hired an undocumented household worker—the exact thing Zöe Baird went down for—they didn’t see it as disqualifying. Rather, they had Ross withhold the information until the last minute, in his tightly controlled confirmation hearing. Apparently, the administration was fine with having key positions held by people who were in favor of illegal immigration—at Commerce, at Labor (if they hadn’t been bested by Andrew Pudzer’s critics), and in the Oval Office itself.

Most significantly, the number of deportations under Trump has actually declined, and is on track to be lower than during any year of Obama’s presidency. Arrests and detentions have increased, to be sure. While Obama, the careful lawyer, restricted the actions of ICE to arrest and detain those most likely to be deported, the Trump administration has encouraged aggressive policing, creating terror, and a huge backlog of cases awaiting a hearing in immigration court. “When you go out and you arrest a whole bunch of people willy-nilly [an immigration judge] has got to fill his docket time hearing those arguments,” John Sandweg, acting director of ICE in 2013-14, told Politico. While it’s possible that more judges would mean more deportations, many of the people picked up are later released. In other words, it’s not yet clear whether this is a campaign to make immigrants afraid, or deport them.

This raises a question about all the back and forth about DACA: is the goal really to deport young people, or is it just to raise the flag that the administration is ambivalent about immigrants getting an education and a work permit, instead of remaining part of a permanent underclass of low-paid, illegal workers. One thing is clear: U.S. immigration policy has produced the largest exploitable, deterritorialized labor force since slavery times. Many of them are women, doing “women’s work.” Any effort at immigration reform—whether for the 1 million Dreamers or the estimated 10 million other undocumented immigrants—will have to take account of household and care work. Someone still has to watch the kids.


Laura Briggs is chair and professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to TrumphereRead the first chapter .

Watch Laura discuss her book’s thesis, economics, race, and family on last Sunday’s episode of The Open Mind on PBS.

 


Help Your Students Understand the Impact of the End of DACA

This post is part of our blog series Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses, which aims to provide lecture topics and corresponding course books that will help your students think critically about today’s conversations on social inequality.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in six months if Congress cannot find a different and more permanent solution. The statements Attorney General Jeff Sessions has used to describe many DACA recipients have been said to be misleading. And clarification about how DACA came about, who is affected, and what will happen next has been shared widely (click on Twitter hashtags #DACA #DREAMer to see the volume of commentary that’s been generated since earlier this week).

What has been sorely missed are the personal stories—those of people who were brought here as children to escape persecution or other hardships, have lived here in the United States peacefully, and are now poised to productively contribute to society. One such story is that of Jesus Contreras, a Houston-area paramedic who has been helping his community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And others, such as the DACA recipient who participated in a sit-down interview at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s home, notes that, “[a]ll we’re asking for is a chance . . . I urge members of Congress to meet a DREAMer.”

Books That Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses

Below are recommended books you can assign to help students put a face to those affected by the end of DACA.

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales, winner of the 2016 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

Roberto has written about how DACA beneficiaries contribute to society. He continues to serve as champion to immigrant children and has recently discussed how DACA has affected their mental health and well-being.

“It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policymaker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, coeditor of Latinos: Remaking America

 

 

Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody by Susan J. Terrio

Susan has written about what happens to undocumented children and families in the Trump era. She has also been interviewed regarding her thoughts on U.S. government’s treatment of children and who has access to the American dream.

“An impressive grasp of relevant history, law, policy and practice. Essential reading for anyone interested in one of the US’s most urgent contemporary human rights challenges.”–Jacqueline Bhabha, Harvard University

 

 

Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families by Joanna Dreby, winner of the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Research Award, Section for Latina/o Sociology, American Sociological Association

Joanna writes about how to tell children not to be afraid. She is committed to discussing and changing policies that undermine immigrant families.

“Eloquent and sharp… an important contribution to the literature on undocumented populations.”—Harvard Educational Review

 

 

 

Dreams and Nightmares: Immigration Policy, Youth, and Families by Marjorie S. Zatz and Nancy Rodriguez

Marjorie speaks frequently about how sweeping political decisions have enormous consequences to swaths of people living in the U.S.

“Highly valuable… this book is a combination of informative resources, rigorous social science research, and is well written to boot!”—Sociology and Social Welfare

 

 

 

 

Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation by Deborah Boehm

Deborah discusses the fate of returnees and deportees, or “lost citizens.” Her research has focused on migrants’ lives before and after federal custody but she now intends to do research on detention itself.

“Boehm challenges sterile depictions of deportations in the media and political debates. This urgent book is a must read.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Immigrant Families

 

See other books on immigration and read the Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition#ImmigrationSyllabus


Tell The Children Not To Be Afraid

By Joanna Dreby, author of Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families

Over the past eight years of the Obama administration, there has been a record high number of deportations, more than under any other President historically. Researchers have recorded the impacts of such a focus on immigration enforcement, my own contribution documented in the book Everyday Illegal. Men, mostly from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean have been the primary targets of enforcement actions. Yet men live in families; they have wives and girlfriends and children, many of whom are legal residents or U.S. citizens. Immigration enforcement has torn families apart.

When a parent is deported, a child experiences sudden economic hardship along with the emotional trauma of having the state take away a parent one day to the next. These are the immediate impacts. But what of the aftermath? In some cases spouses or children decide to return to their deported spouses’ country of origin, in many cases forfeiting their rights as U.S. citizens to live freely in this country. In other cases, families live through painful separations and the on-going financial and emotional trauma that entails. The deported face many difficulties in finding employment in countries of origin: they rarely can make enough money to support family members living in the United States.

The consequence of a system that increasingly criminalizes immigrants goes beyond that of those who are the target of enforcement. There are rippling effects. One of those unintended impacts is that the young children in the immigrant families I interviewed often reported that they did not feel comfortable with the word “immigrant.” At times they misused it, telling me that immigrants are people who are “illegal” or “not supposed to be here.” I heard the same thing from unauthorized kids, from kids whose parents were legal permanent residents, and from U.S. citizens; the legal status of children’s own family members mattered, but the rhetoric about immigrants impacted children in all types of families.

Under Donald Trump’s presidency, there are a lot of unknowns. How much of the Obama administration’s policies will remain intact? Will Trump make good on his promises to build a wall? Will he revoke DACA or will it simply expire? Will the deportations increase or stay the course? We do not yet know what changes to immigration policy the new administration will bring.

Yet for children I believe that much damage has already been done. Policies that criminalize immigrants and the rhetoric behind them instill fear in children. It is the fear that a loved one will be taken away or those children’s rights to be in the United States will be questioned because they live in a family of immigrants. We saw these policies under the Obama Administration. And yet Trump’s campaign planted even more seeds of fear in children. This past week, children had their fears legitimized in the form of the Presidency. I expect many of the experiences I documented in Everyday Illegal to become ever more common. But perhaps too young children will also become more bold in confronting those fears in days to come, like 6-year-old Sophie Cruz who told the audience of hundreds of thousands at the Women’s March on Washington, in Spanish and English: “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed. I also want to tell the children not to be afraid because we are not alone.”


Joanna Dreby is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University at Albany, SUNY, and the author of Everyday Illegal and Divided by Borders.


The Immigration Issue for Election 2016

Yet again, immigration has become a pivotal issue in the elections. Presidential candidates have shared their varying stances. And in response, many Latinos did their best to register to vote despite various obstacles.

Many believe that the Latino vote will be a game-changer. From now until November elections, as candidates continue to discuss immigration in regards to paths to citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), deportation raids, or border control, we should remember that every immigrant’s story is a personal one.

Below are some titles that share the immigrant experience. You can see more titles on our website re: Immigration and Emigration. And save 40% on these and all other UC Press titles, including upcoming Fall ’16 new release pre-orders, by participating in our Summer Sale from June 14th-June 21st. Use discount code 15W4890 at checkout. (Sale excludes e-books and journals, and some restrictions apply; please see Summer Sale info).