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In My Words: ​Mass deportations will have major consequences

Tom Arcaro, professor of sociology, writes in this column for the Elon University Writers Syndicate about the economic consequences of ending temporary protection status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

This column was distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate for republication. Views expressed in this column are the author's own and not necessarily those of Elon University. 


By Tom Arcaro

In recent weeks President Donald Trump ordered ending Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who relocated to this country after disasters in their own.

Tom Arcaro, professor of sociology

This decision could have long-term economic consequences, as the aid these immigrants send “home” comes to an end. These immigrants working and living in the United States offer substantial and regular financial assistance to friends and relatives in their home countries, and ending that support could destabilize countries already recovering from catastrophes.

The orders signed by the president impacted 59,000 Haitians who were granted entry after the devastating 2010 earthquake in their country and to 200,000 migrants from El Salvador allowed to live in the U.S. after similar disasters in 2001. Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants now fear they may face the same withdrawal of Temporary Protection Status.  

Additionally, the fate of the estimated 3.6 million mostly Mexican DREAMers – among them the 800,000 young men and women under the DACA program - is now one of the points of conversation as Congress looks to draft a long-term budget and avoid another government shutdown.

Actions have consequences, and forcing “home” hundreds of thousands Haitians, Salvadorans and others will have major humanitarian and global security impacts. It’s hard to see how the decision to end Temporary Protective Status and to deport countless migrants took these impacts into consideration.

Let me explain why these deportations will have critical ripple effects.

A very high percentage of refugees and immigrants now living in the United States regularly send money back “home” to family and friends they left behind. These funds, typically small amounts sent every month, are mostly used to provide health care, living expenses, school fees and other necessities.

The term for this transfer of funds is “remittances.” In conversations with both my students and with generally well-informed friends and colleagues I have found that they know little to nothing about the fact that remittances exist. More importantly, few understand how critical remittances are to the alleviation of poverty in the developing world.

According to the World Bank in 2016, 250 million migrants transferred remittances totaling over $600 billion, with more than $440 billion sent to developing nations. To put this in context, in 2016 the total amount of development aid being sent by “rich” nations to the developing world was more than $140 billion. Remittances account for more than three times as much as traditional development aid funds sent by nations like the U.S. and the U.K.  

This flow of remittances around the world represents the best of humanity, with families that have been broken apart continuing to help those left behind. The act of sending $50 or $100 a month from an already anemic budget to assist mothers, brothers, cousins and family friends is the marginalized helping the marginalized, a clear expression of the Golden Rule.

For the most part, the aid we and other nations send to the developing world is a humanitarian act, meant to confront both the consequences and the causes of poverty, but research makes clear that remittances have a much higher positive impact than direct aid on the poverty in the developing world.

Migrants in United States send more money abroad than those from any other nation. In 2016, just in this hemisphere, more than $70 billion flowed from the U.S. to Latin America and the Caribbean. These remittances have a major impact in many nations. In El Salvador these funds are now approximately 17 percent of that country’s gross domestic product, and Haiti nearly 23 percent of GDP.  

Sending massive numbers of Salvadorans and Haitians back to their country of origin could have a catastrophic economic impact. Imagine the economic chaos if the GDP of this country suddenly dropped by 20 percent. Deporting Haitians, Salvadorans, and other Latin Americans will rend apart homes and communities here is the U.S. and cause massive long-term economic upheaval in those countries, constituting a major humanitarian crisis.

From a strategic and Homeland Security perspective, having economically and politically stable neighbors is always preferable to having those that are in chaos. Nations already suffering from natural and human-made disasters that are made even worse by a sudden catastrophic economic disaster are a breeding ground for political extremism and virulent anti-Americanism.

Considering the humanitarian AND economic impact of ending Temporary Protective Status for these groups, it’s hard to imagine how the president’s decision reflects principles and values this country holds dear and how it protects the United States during the long term. 


Owen Covington,
2/6/2018 2:40 PM