Under the shadow of Mexico’s twin volcanoes in the tiny mountainous village of San Mateo Ozolco, Erasmo Aparicio stands outside his house, arms crossed, black hood pulled down over his hair. “Fucking Mexico, no fucking money,” he spits out in defiant English.
Now a campesino by his own description making 100 pesos—or just under $7—a day, he’s a long way from the $9 an hour he was making preparing fish in one of Philadelphia’s Italian restaurants.
As one of the more than 4 million Mexicans who were apprehended in the United States over the past seven years, Erasmo found his life uprooted and his dreams put on hold when he was picked up on the way to buy a beer in South Philadelphia.
It’s undeniable that U.S. immigration policy has profound human consequences, but it is admittedly at the margins of Lawfare’s areas of concern. The site has not spent a great deal of energy on immigration reform questions. But immigration is never too far from national security discussion, since many people believe—rightly or wrongly—that failure to control the country’s borders is itself a profound national security failure.
Moreover, the specific path President Obama has chosen to reform the U.S. immigration system without congressional involvement raises important issues regarding presidential power. And the immigration system is constantly handling deportation and removal cases with national security overtones. Yet even with these links to broader issues, there are people on all sides of the many policy questions surrounding immigration enforcement who do not quite understand even the basics of those policies.
Take the question that should be the simplest: how many people are actually being deported? As it turns out, the answer depends on which categories of deportations—removals or returns—that you include.
Removals are what most people think of when they imagine deportations (and they are what many analysts report): that is, formal proceedings, at times in front of immigration judges (though this is not always the case) and visa or possibly criminal consequences for those caught and expelled.
In contrast, returns are the less formal version of deportations. With returns, deportees (usually along the border) are allowed to “voluntarily return” to their countries without facing any legal consequences.