President-Elect Donald Trump has declared that once he takes office, he will have 3 million undocumented immigrants deported for being criminals. However, this number is not clear on what defines a criminal because it includes simple traffic violations such as speeding, changing lanes without signaling or driving with a broken tail light. It presents challenges for large cities like Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, where many businesses, restaurants and even schools rely on undocumented workers every day to stay in business and help support the local, state, and national economy. If Trump has his way, this could mean a huge loss in taxes from these workers and a massive roundup that would be costly and inefficient.
The Pew Research Center estimates 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and according to the Department of Homeland Security, there are an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants living in the state of Texas. The highest concentrations of these undocumented immigrants are in large cities; 24 percent of them reside in Harris County, says the Migration Policy Institute. That’s an estimated 432,000 people.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, especially those who have committed felonies and misdemeanors. Many undocumented immigrants are detained for simple traffic violations that almost everyone who drives has committed, such as speeding or not using their turn signal. Since many undocumented immigrants can’t receive insurance or apply for a driver’s license, this leaves them exposed to being arrested instead of being given a ticket.
Trump’s plan hasn’t addressed how ICE will deport 3 million people in a timely manner. There are currently 521,676 immigration cases waiting to be heard by judges in the United States, per Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. This has created a huge backlog and holds back thousands of people from being deported efficiently. Add on another 3 million people with potential cases and the backlog will continue to expand for decades.
Opponents of undocumented immigrants often assume that these workers don’t contribute to the economy and leech off public services; this simply isn’t true. Many of these people work and contribute to the economy. Research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy indicates that out of the $11.64 billion in taxes paid by undocumented workers in the United States, $1.5 billion are from undocumented workers living in Texas alone.
Overall, undocumented immigrants work hard and contribute substantially to the economy. “Criminal” is a loose term used to lump as many undocumented people as possible into one category to deport them out of the United States. It is important to keep in mind that with the mass gathering of undocumented immigrants comes with a loss in tax revenue and a loss in trust between whole communities and law enforcement. These people need a path to legalization and citizenship that is more easily attainable, so they don’t have to live in fear of being removed from a country that promises freedom and a better life for them and their families.
Amanda Wood is a student at Texas State University.