May’s edition of Contra Costa Lawyer: Guest Editor, Erika Portillo, on Immigration


Inside: Guest Editor's Column, May 2016

How beneficial and realistic would building a border wall and removing millions of undocumented immigrants really be?

Immigration has been a top issue in the 2016 presidential race. In particular, the top contender for the Republican Party nomination, Donald Trump, has been very outspoken about illegal immigration. He has proposed the creation of a “Great Wall” that he plans to build between the United States and Mexico, and the removal of the approximately 11.3 million undocumented people living in the U.S.

Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants during his June 16, 2015, campaign announcement caused outrage among the Hispanic community, and many corporations decided to end their business relationships with him. In that speech, Trump said Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems” to America including rapists, drug runners and other criminals.

Although during his campaign, Trump has never provided data to support his allegations and proposals, the number of his followers has increased, according to the polls.

The undocumented people who are living in the U.S. are not only from Mexico, but also from Central and South America, Asia and Europe. Many of them have overstayed their visas, meaning they came to the country legally.

Executing Trump’s proposal of sending undocumented people to their countries of origin may not be as easy as proposed. There are a few things that Trump and other candidates appear to have not taken into consideration. For instance, many undocumented immigrants own businesses, have entered into contracts and have applied for loans to purchase houses, vehicles, services and such.

If they were going to be removed from the U.S., what would happen to the American citizens that have a right to collect money on those loans and services? What would happen with the job vacancies and their much-needed contributions to the Social Security Administration, which are being used to pay pensions to American citizen retirees? Who would fill those jobs? Many U.S. citizen children would be left behind for our foster care system to care for. As a result, many of the public services costs would significantly increase.

The costs related to the transportation of those immigrants to their countries of origin would be burdensome to our economy. According to a report from the conservative American Action Forum, headed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of undertaking such an operation would be absurdly high.

More precisely, removing 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in two years would require:

Increasing the number of federal immigration apprehension personnel from 4,844 positions to 90,582 positions.
Increasing the number of immigration detention beds from 34,000 to 348,831.
Increasing the number of immigration courts from 58 to 1,316.
Increasing the number of federal attorneys legally processing undocumented immigrants from 1,430 to 32,445.
The report concludes, “in just two years it would shrink the labor force by 10.3 million workers and reduce real GDP by $1 trillion.”

A system allowing people already here to obtain a work permit with a path to citizenship would be more beneficial than removing law-abiding families who are contributing to our economy and our society as a whole.

It would not only benefit the immigrants by improving the quality of their lives, but it would also benefit the country. People would be able to come out of the shadows and have normal lives without fear. Integration would be easier. As a result, crime would decrease and our society would prosper.

As for that “Great Wall” proposal, is it really feasible to build such a wall? There are millions of men, women and children who live in communities that fall on both sides of Mexico and the U.S. There are many tourists, workers, students and entrepreneurs who cross the border each day. There are billions of dollars that the trade between the two countries provide to our economy, which sustain millions of U.S. jobs. The two countries are economically and socially integrated.

Trump’s plan would severely damage that relationship. According to the fact sheet released by the Americas Society/Council of Americas Integration and Immigration Initiative:

The total value of U.S.-Mexico trade is more than $1 billion every day.
More than 13 million Mexicans traveled to the U.S. in 2010, spending $8.7 billion.
Roughly 6 million U.S. jobs are sustained by trade with Mexico.
More than 20 percent of all U.S. jobs are tied in some way to trade along the border.
As we can see, a wall may not be the best solution. What we need instead is infrastructure upgrades for ports of entry, and intelligence-driven law enforcement operations that target criminal organizations, as Republican Congressman Will Hurd addressed recently at a panel discussing hosted by the Brookings Institution, titled “A complex reality: Security, trade, and the U.S.-Mexico border.”

If we really want to solve the problem without building a wall and removing law-abiding families, we should focus our efforts on comprehensive immigration reform. As proposed previously in Congress, it will strengthen our communities, our economy and our country’s future.

Comprehensive immigration reform would provide undocumented immigrants with a legal way to earn citizenship; improve family-based and employment-based immigration systems (e.g., currently spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents must wait more than two years to reunite with their families, while adult children of green card holders may wait more than 10 years); provide visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in the U.S., creating job opportunities for U.S. citizens; help foreign graduate students stay in this country after graduation; give law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime; enhance our infrastructure and technology; and strengthen our ability to address threats to our national security.

Establishing a system to enable much-needed unskilled workers to come to the U.S. legally by applying overseas and increasing the number of skilled worker visas, including visas for highly educated professionals, are among other changes that would produce greater benefits to the U.S. than what Trump is proposing.

Erika Portillo is a partner at Guichard, Teng and Portello with offices in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Davis and Willows. She practices immigration law exclusively and is fluent in English and Spanish.


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