Border between the United States and Mexico

UF Study: Anti-Immigration Steps Encourage Foreigners to Stay in U.S.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Restrictions to keep illegal immigrants from entering the United States are having the perverse effect of encouraging those who are already here to stay by any means necessary, a new University of Florida study finds.

The culprit is tightened post 9-ll security, which has prompted immigrants to skip visits to their homelands because of the risk of not being allowed back into the U.S., said UF anthropology professor Maxine L. Margolis.

“These draconian measures do not deter undocumented immigrants from trying to enter the country so much as discourage those who are already here from returning home,” said Margolis, whose research is scheduled to be published in the January issue of the journal Human Organization. “The restrictions are doing exactly the opposite of what they intend to do by locking these people in place.”

The research is based on interviews with Brazilian immigrants and applies to other nationalities as well, Margolis said. “Whether they are Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Dominicans or any other group with a large undocumented population, they are experiencing the same problems,” she said.

Unlike in the past, when most illegal immigrants made a single, permanent move to the United States, in the last few decades they have tended to move back and forth between their home and host countries for a variety of economic and social reasons, Margolis said. Many foreigners come here temporarily for jobs paying anywhere from four to 10 times as much money as they would earn in their native countries in order to support their families, but they may return home briefly to see a sick relative or to attend a family wedding or funeral, she said.

It has become increasingly difficult, however, for immigrants to leave the United States and return since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the government tightened restrictions for tourist visas, increased deportation of undocumented foreigners, strengthened border patrols and made it harder for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and other legal documents, she said.

Many of these people have children, investments, jobs and apartments in this country and don’t want to risk being unable to return, Margolis said. Even with valid passports and visas, they can be denied re-entry if they previously overstayed the limit on their visa, she said.

One Brazilian immigrant, who owned a floor tile company in New York and had lived in the state for several years with his wife and American-born daughter, flew to Brazil when he learned his elderly father was seriously ill, Margolis said. On his return, he was stopped at JFK International Airport and was deported to Brazil for having previously overstayed his tourist visa, she said.

Some undocumented immigrants have found creative ways to get around the regulations and avoid detection, often at considerable expense, she said.

One Brazilian woman living in North Carolina who was desperate to visit her family returned to the U.S. through the Caribbean islands where she boarded a cruise ship bound for Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, Margolis said. Correctly assuming authorities were unlikely to search for illegal immigrants aboard cruise ships, she got through with her Brazilian passport and flew back to the states, she said.

Margolis’ study also revealed immigrants developing schemes to circumvent the requirements for driver’s licenses. Typically, Brazilian immigrants in the Northeast load up in minivans and drive to states such as Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, which do not require a green card or valid Social Security card for a license, but some have traveled as far as the West Coast, she said.

So far none of the proposed federal, state or local immigration bills has included a provision that would allow immigrants to travel home to visit family and friends and be assured re-entry into the United States, she said.

Conrad Kottak, a University of Michigan anthropology professor, said Margolis “provides a valuable case study of how one group of transnational migrants — Brazilians in the United States — have been affected by changes in American border policies since the 9/11 attacks. Many of her findings no doubt apply as well to other new immigrant communities.”



Cathy Keen,, 352-392-0186


Maxine L. Margolis,, 352-378-0990, 392-0690


Photo of the US/Mexican Border by ComputerHotline, flickr

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