Deportations could hit real estate markets in state, nation

Angel Diaz sits at a table in the home he recently purchased. (Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – In September, Angel Diaz bought a house.

As he signed the home-purchase documents, he remembered emerging from the hot desert as an 8-year-old unauthorized Mexican immigrant, barely able to hold his own water bottle after three days of walking the migrant trails.

He’d come so far.

Diaz is now 22 and a pre-law student at Paradise Valley Community College who works fulltime at an insurance agency. He obtained temporary relief from deportation under a 2012 Obama administration directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

He’d missed meals to save $6,000 as a down payment to buy the $153,000 home in northwest Phoenix, and now he has a home he, his mother and two sisters could call their own.

Now, all that could change.

“At this point, even, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Diaz said.

After the presidential election, Diaz and thousands of other undocumented immigrant homeowners were plunged into a state of uncertainty. President-elect Donald Trump had vowed on the campaign trail to revoke DACA, adding DREAMers like Diaz to a group of about 11 million undocumented immigrants Trump said he’d deport.

And while experts say deporting the nation’s undocumented would create administrative backlogs and massive legal hurdles, mass deportations could impact the nation’s housing market.

About 3.4 million unauthorized immigrants may own homes, the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan immigration-issue think tank, reports.

In Arizona alone, about 89,000 undocumented immigrants may own homes, the insitute reports. The institute doesn’t break down numbers for DREAMer homeowners, like Diaz.

In 2015, the average price of an existing home in the United States was $266,400, according to National Association of Realtors.

At that rate, if every undocumented immigrant homeowner is deported and his or her home is foreclosed on, it would cause a roughly $906.3 billion hit to the housing market. In Arizona, the hit would be $23.7 billion.

Ana De Anda, a Phoenix realtor who co-owns American Traditions Realty, told Cronkite News that undocumented immigrants who buy homes often purchase their houses through mortgages with substantial down payments.

If an undocumented immigrant is deported, she said, he or she will likely find friends or relatives to live in the purchased home. The homeowner, even if deported, is still responsible for paying the mortgage, she said.

Dulce Matuz, a former DREAMer who is a Phoenix real estate agent and obtained her citizenship in September, said DREAMer homeowners are unsure of what will happen and are preparing for the possibility that their temporary legal status will be removed.

Matuz, who is also Diaz’s real estate agent, said DREAMer homebuyers in the process of purchasing homes expressed mixed reactions after the presidential election. Some still planned to move forward with buying a house. Others decided not to buy a house following the election, although they’d already been qualified for mortgages.

Deportation uncertainties

During his August immigration speech in Phoenix, Trump laid out a 10-point plan that included taking away President Obama’s two executive actions granting temporary legal status to qualified undocumented immigrants. He also said during the speech he would deport the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

Recently, Trump appointed to his transition team Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is known for his role in helping draft Arizona’s SB 1070, which required local police to check on the immigration status of people they stopped, detained or arrested.

Kobach is widely viewed as a potential head of the Department of Homeland Security in the new Trump administration. Although Cronkite News called and emailed Kobach’s office several times seeking interviews for this story, Kobach was unavailable for an interview, his spokeswoman said.

He recently told Fox News Trump will largely follow his campaign’s immigration policies.

Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” he’d prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. Then, he said, he would determine what to do with the other undocumented immigrants.

Randy Capps, the Migration Policy Institute director of research, told Cronkite News that deporting all undocumented immigrants as Trump promised is unlikely.

Capps said the Obama administration deported approximately 2 million immigrants. About 80 percent of the Obama deportations occurred on the border, he said. DREAMers and others who might be singled out for deportation would have the option of going through lengthy administrative procedures in immigration courts.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that favors strict immigration restrictions and has strongly denied charges that it is anti-immigrant, said repealing DACA would be a deterrent for future unauthorized immigration. It would not necessarily lead to deporting current DREAMers, he said.

Mehlman said that even if they were deported, DREAMer homeowners comprise such a low percentage of the homeowner population that the housing market most likely would not see much change.

He said deporting all unauthorized immigrants also would have negligible impacts on the U.S. economy.

But a November report from the National Bureau of Economic Research predicted the annual financial losses the United States would face in the event of mass deportation of the undocumented. The bureau used the nation’s 2013 gross domestic product as a measure of the country’s economic success. If all the undocumented were deported, the $14.4 trillion GDP would face a $434.4 billion loss in the long-term. In Arizona, that loss would be $9.7 billion.

‘I rarely cry’

The 1,288-square foot house that Angel Diaz bought is white with a grey roof. It has a spiral of lush green grass and a big shade tree in the front yard. Inside, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“I rarely cry,” Diaz said.

But he did after the election.

He felt a flood of emotions including frustration, disappointment, uncertainty and helplessness.

The uncertainty hasn’t gone away.

But, he said, he has chosen to “hope for the best.”