Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Do tighter laws make immigrants 'self-deport,' or just move to another state?

When immigration laws become unbearably tight for them, do undocumented immigrants really "self-deport," in the parlance of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney?

Advocates of what's referred to as attrition by enforcement have long argued that it works, although there's still no hard data that undocumented immigrants have left in large numbers. A new report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy think tank in Washington, D.C., uses data that includes a UC San Diego study of immigrants in Oklahoma City, where state anti-illegal immigration legislation was enacted well ahead of Arizona's SB 1070. It concludes that rather than leave the country, those who move as a result of strict immigration laws - as many have done from Alabama, for example - only move to another county or state. From the report:

Based on the experiences of immigrants in Oklahoma City, and in more recent cases such as Arizona after S.B. 1070, we find that:

1. Most unauthorized immigrants make the decision to stay in the country despite attempts to drive them out. The proliferation of state-level anti- immigrant laws has not changed the calculus for immigrants when it comes to choosing to stay here or return home.

2. At best, anti-immigrant laws simply drive immigrants from one area to another"say from one county to the next, or from one state to the next" rather than from the country. At worst, they further isolate immigrants from the communities they live in and from local law enforcement, while driving families deeper into the shadows.

So why aren"t immigrants leaving the country in response to these laws? There are several reasons.

"¢ Most undocumented immigrants have been in the country for 10 years or more, and the majority live in family units with children, meaning that they are well settled into American life, making it less likely that they would want to leave.

"¢ The costs of a return trip also are too steep for most people.

"¢ Finally, the stark lack of opportunities in the migrants" home countries"which pushed them to enter the United States outside of legal status in the first place" have not gone away, leaving them with little reason to believe that life would be better there than in the United States.

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