In spite of dramatic changes to the immigration enforcement landscape since the book was written, all of the Lions continue to work in Chicago restaurants and live much as before. If anything, the Lions are even more settled in the United States, as their families in Chicago grow and their dreams of returning to Mexico become increasingly elusive. Still, the Lions are watching current political debates about immigration reform very closely, as comprehensive reform is the only hope that most of them have to legalize their immigration status. Even in the event of reform, it is likely that many of the Lions will remain undocumented because repeat immigration violations will probably exclude Alberto, Alejandro, Roberto, and Rene from a legalization program.
Ruth Gomberg-Munoz continues to do both research and advocacy work with Chicago’s undocumented community. In 2011, Dr. Gomberg-Munoz was awarded a National Science Foundation research grant to conduct a study of undocumented people who are trying to change their immigration status. Central questions of the study include: Who will be able to successfully change their status, and who will not? How does undertaking the process of legal status adjustment affect other dimensions of people’s lives? Finally, when undocumented people are able attain legal status, how do their lives change and, just as important, how do they stay the same? Preliminary results from this study are expected in 2014. In addition to research, Dr. Gomberg-Munoz continues to participate in Chicago’s immigrant rights movement as an organizer and ally.
The National Immigration Debate
The number of people held in immigrant detention centers and deported from the United States has accelerated rapidly since Labor and Legality was written. More than 400,000 people were deported from the United States in 2012, an all-time record that beats out the previous records held in 2009, 2010, and 2011. More people are also held in immigrant detention than ever before. On any given day in 2012, there were an estimated 30,000 immigrants held in detention, including children. This is more than double the number of immigrants in detention only ten years ago.
Not only the scale, but also the scope of immigration enforcement has expanded. Since 2005, enforcement measures have spread rapidly from the U.S.-Mexico border throughout the U.S. interior via a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program called Secure Communities. Secure Communities is a collaboration between federal immigration enforcement and local law enforcement agencies in which local police run the fingerprints of anyone they arrest through a DHS database. If that person has an immigration violation on their record, they can be held in local jails for pickup and deportation by DHS. This means that undocumented people who are arrested for minor offenses, such as driving without a license, are in danger of deportation even if they have lived in the United States for years or even decades and have no criminal record. Secure Communities is currently implemented in 97% of U.S. jurisdictions and is expected to be nationwide by 2013.
State-level immigration policies have also proliferated in the United States, led by Arizona’s SB 1070, which mandates aggressive policing of immigrants throughout the state. While a series of high profile anti-immigrant copycat laws have passed in Alabama, Georgia, and Indiana, many other states and localities are instituting immigrant-friendly policies, such as in-state tuition for undocumented college students. In all, the failure of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level has led to widely diverging policies on immigration at state, county, and local levels.
The federal push for comprehensive immigration reform has recently been infused with new life, with both parties advocating for immigration legislation in 2013. While the immigrant rights community is hopeful for a path to legalization for some of the U.S.’s roughly eleven million undocumented people, political centerpieces of a bipartisan bill will likely include increased enforcement and border “security” as well. That is, it is doubtful that comprehensive immigration reform, should it pass, will address the broader global processes that fuel migration and the national policies that characterize it as “illegal.”