With President Trump poised to issue another order banning travel from selected Muslim dominated Mideastern countries, and with heightened deportations nationwide, communities of undocumented immigrants are fearful of deportation back to sometimes hostile and oppressive societies.
Many in Rhode Island’s undocumented immigrant communities are looking to friends to drive them to work, or school, or other essential outings, but limiting public exposure that might draw attention from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), leading to potential deportation.
“With the executive order, priorities have gone out the window,” said Kathy Cloutier, executive director of Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. “There is significant fear among those who are undocumented. With the recent executive order, opening the priority for deportation, we are hearing folks are afraid to be out and about. They may go to work and come right back home, or send their kids to school and come right back home, and not participate in other activities.
“In Rhode Island, as an undocumented immigrant, I’m not eligible to get a driver’s license,” Cloutier said. “If I get stopped and it results in a violation, it’s an additional priority for deportation.”
A CNN report, quoting immigration lawyers, described fear gripping undocumented immigrants from coast to coast.
“Across the United States, some unauthorized immigrants are keeping their children home from school. Others have suspended after-school visits to the public library. They have given up coffee shop trips and weekend restaurant dinners with family,” the CNN report said. “Some don’t answer knocks on their doors. They’re taping bedsheets over windows and staying off social media. Nervous parents and their children constantly exchange text messages and phone calls.”
Not only are individuals and families in danger of deportation, but mass deportations will create economic hardships nationwide and in Rhode Island, per a recent study by New American Economy, a group that includes among its partners, intel, Google, Microsoft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of farm-related organizations.
In Rhode Island, the report said there are nearly 30,000 undocumented immigrants, earning in 2014 more than $365 million, paying nearly $18 million in state and local taxes, and nearly $26 million in federal taxes.
“There’s a misrepresentation that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes,” Cloutier said. “On the flip side, they don’t benefit from Social Security.”
They often use phony social security cards or numbers to gain employment, according to the New American Economy report.
Who are the undocumented immigrants? Cloutier said nearly 40 percent entered the United States legally, on visas for work, travel, or education. Often, they have overstayed the visa, perhaps a student with a four-year education visa, who still needs another year to complete his or her studies.
She said the renewal process is difficult, often compelling the individual to return to their home country for as long as a decade. There are waivers for some, she said, reducing that to as short as a month.
The other 60 percent of undocumented immigrants, she said, may be individuals who come from oppressed countries, fleeing areas dominated by gangs and violence, or individuals and families seeking economic opportunity.
Undocumented immigrants are part of a much larger immigrant community in Rhode Island. Some 13 percent, nearly 140,000 Rhode Islanders are foreign born. While foreign-born residents represent 13 percent of the population, Cloutier said they represent 15 percent of the workforce. The New American Economy report said that in 2014, immigrants in Rhode Island earned $3.5 billion, paying more than $336 million in state and local taxes, and $550 million in federal taxes.
They are in all types of jobs, from landscaping and manufacturing to healthcare and information technology. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are fields projected to be key to the U.S. and Rhode Island economy. Foreign born workers accounted for nearly 18 percent of all STEM type jobs in Rhode Island in 2014.