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Backfire at the Border: Why Enforcement without Legalization, Cato Trade Policy Analysis No. 29

Backfire at the Border: Why Enforcement without Legalization, Cato Trade Policy Analysis No. 29

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Published by Cato Institute
Despite increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexican border
beginning in the 1980s, the number of foreign-born workers entering
the United States illegally each year has not diminished. Today an
estimated 10 million or more people reside in the United States
without legal documentation.
For the past two decades, the U.S. government has pursued a
contradictory policy on North American integration. While the U.S.
government has pursued more commercial integration through the
North American Free Trade Agreement, it has sought to unilaterally
curb the flow of labor across the U.S.-Mexican border. That policy
has not only failed to reduce illegal immigration; it has actually
made the problem worse.
Increased border enforcement has only succeeded in pushing
immigration flows into more remote regions. That has resulted in a
tripling of the death rate at the border and, at the same time, a
dramatic fall in the rate of apprehension. As a result, the cost to
U.S. taxpayers of making one arrest along the border increased from
$300 in 1992 to $1,700 in 2002, an increase of 467 percent in just
a decade.
Enforcement has driven up the cost of crossing the border
illegally, but that has had the unintended consequence of
encouraging illegal immigrants to stay longer in the United States
to recoup the cost of entry. The result is that illegal immigrants
are less likely to return to their home country, causing an
increase in the number of illegal immigrants remaining in the
United States. Whatever one thinks about the goal of reducing
migration from Mexico, U.S. policies toward that end have clearly
failed, and at great cost to U.S. taxpayers.
A border policy that relies solely on enforcement is bound to
fail. Congress should build on President Bush's immigration
initiative to enact a temporary visa program that would allow
workers from Canada, Mexico, and other countries to work in the
United States without restriction for a certain limited time.
Undocumented workers already in the United States who do not have a
criminal record should be given temporary legal status.
Despite increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexican border
beginning in the 1980s, the number of foreign-born workers entering
the United States illegally each year has not diminished. Today an
estimated 10 million or more people reside in the United States
without legal documentation.
For the past two decades, the U.S. government has pursued a
contradictory policy on North American integration. While the U.S.
government has pursued more commercial integration through the
North American Free Trade Agreement, it has sought to unilaterally
curb the flow of labor across the U.S.-Mexican border. That policy
has not only failed to reduce illegal immigration; it has actually
made the problem worse.
Increased border enforcement has only succeeded in pushing
immigration flows into more remote regions. That has resulted in a
tripling of the death rate at the border and, at the same time, a
dramatic fall in the rate of apprehension. As a result, the cost to
U.S. taxpayers of making one arrest along the border increased from
$300 in 1992 to $1,700 in 2002, an increase of 467 percent in just
a decade.
Enforcement has driven up the cost of crossing the border
illegally, but that has had the unintended consequence of
encouraging illegal immigrants to stay longer in the United States
to recoup the cost of entry. The result is that illegal immigrants
are less likely to return to their home country, causing an
increase in the number of illegal immigrants remaining in the
United States. Whatever one thinks about the goal of reducing
migration from Mexico, U.S. policies toward that end have clearly
failed, and at great cost to U.S. taxpayers.
A border policy that relies solely on enforcement is bound to
fail. Congress should build on President Bush's immigration
initiative to enact a temporary visa program that would allow
workers from Canada, Mexico, and other countries to work in the
United States without restriction for a certain limited time.
Undocumented workers already in the United States who do not have a
criminal record should be given temporary legal status.

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Despite increased enforcement at theU.S.-Mexican border beginning in the1980s,the number of foreign-born work-ers entering the United States illegally each year has not diminished.Today anestimated 10 million or more peoplereside in the United States without legaldocumentation.For the past two decades,the U.S.gov-ernment has pursued a contradictory poli-cy on North American integration.Whilethe U.S.government has pursued morecommercial integration through the NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement,it hassought to unilaterally curb the flow of labor across the U.S.-Mexican border. That policy has not only failed to reduceillegal immigration;it has actually madethe problem worse.Increased border enforcement has only succeeded in pushing immigration flowsinto more remote regions.That has result-ed in a tripling of the death rate at the bor-der and,at the same time,a dramatic fall inthe rate of apprehension.As a result,thecost to U.S.taxpayers of making one arrestalong the border increased from $300 in1992 to $1,700 in 2002,an increase of 467percent in just a decade.Enforcement has driven up the cost of crossing the border illegally,but that has hadthe unintended consequence of encouragingillegal immigrants to stay longer in theUnited States to recoup the cost of entry.Theresult is that illegal immigrants are less likely to return to their home country,causing anincrease in the number of illegal immigrantsremaining in the United States.Whateverone thinks about the goal of reducing migra-tion from Mexico,U.S.policies toward thatend have clearly failed,and at great cost toU.S.taxpayers.A border policy that relies solely onenforcement is bound to fail.Congress shouldbuild on President Bush’s immigration initia-tive to enact a temporary visa program that would allow workers from Canada,Mexico,and other countries to work in the UnitedStates without restriction for a certain limitedtime.Undocumented workers already in theUnited States who do not have a criminalrecord should be given temporary legal status.
 Backfire at the Border 
Why Enforcement without LegalizationCannot Stop Illegal Immigration
by Douglas S.Massey 
 June 13,2005No.29
Douglas S.Massey is professor ofsociology and public affairs at Princeton Universityand coauthor of  
Beyond Smoke and Mirrors:Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration
(New York:Russell Sage Foundation,2002).
Executive Summary 
 
Introduction
One of the most important and challengingproblems facing the 109th Congress will beimmigration reform.Despite increased enforce-ment at the U.S.-Mexican border beginning inthe 1980s,the number of foreign-born workersentering the United States illegally each year hasnot diminished.Today an estimated 10 millionor more people reside in the United States with-out legal documentation,and that number con-tinues to grow by 400,000 or more each year.
1
In his State of the Union message onFebruary 2,2005,President Bush challengedCongress to fix the problem:Americas immigration system is ...outdated,unsuited to the needs of oureconomy and to the values of ourcountry.We should not be content with laws that punish hardworkingpeople who want only to provide fortheir families and deny businesses willing workers and invite chaos at ourborder.It is time for an immigrationpolicy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will nottake,that rejects amnesty,that tells us who is entering and leaving our coun-try,and that closes the border to drugdealers and terrorists.
2
 The issue of immigration reform has beensimmering throughout the Bush presidency. When the president first assumed office four years ago,it was already clear to most observersthat U.S.immigration policy toward Mexico was not working.Despite a massive buildup of enforcement resources along the border,Mexican immigration continued apacethroughout the 1990s,and the undocumentedpopulation grew at an unprecedented rate,enabling Hispanics to overtake AfricanAmericans as the nation’s largest minority much sooner than Census Bureau demogra-phers had predicted.
3
It was not surprising,therefore,that early in its first term the Bushadministration began high-level talks onimmigration reform with officials in the newly elected government of Mexican presidentVicente Fox.By the summer of 2001,the discussions were inching toward a consensus that involvedsome kind of legalization program and a tem-porary work visa for Mexican citizens.
4
 Theterrorist attacks of September 11,2001,how-ever,pushed immigration reform and Mexicoto the back burner of administration concerns. The inability of President Fox to negotiate alabor accord with the United States under-mined his political position domestically,led tothe early resignation of his foreign minister,and contributed to electoral losses for his party during the midterm elections of 2003.Meanwhile,the problems associated withundocumented migration continued to fester. The Bush administration finally returned tothe issue of immigration reform in 2004.In a January 7,2004,speech at the White House,the president proposed creating a large tempo-rary worker program to legalize present undoc-umented migrants and accommodate new entrants in the future.He would grant renew-able three-year work visas to employers,which would enable them to hire workers fromMexico and other countries when suitable U.S. workers could not be found.Undocumentedmigrants living in the United States would berequired to pay a one-time registration fee to beeligible for the visa,but those who were stillabroad could register free of charge.The three- year visa would be renewable,and,if in thecourse of working in the United States a work-er accumulated ties and characteristics thatqualified him or her for permanent residence,he or she could apply for a green card confer-ring permanent resident status.Although thesupply of residence visas would be increased tohandle such applications,special credits andincentives would be implemented to encouragethe return of temporary workers.
5
 The president’s proposal did not containspecifics on the number of temporary worker visas or new green cards to be authorized,buthis announcement set in motion a flurry of alternative proposals for reform,including billsintroduced by Sens.McCain,Kennedy,Hagel,Daschle,Craig,and Cornyn,as well as Reps.
2
Despite increasedenforcement at theU.S.-Mexican bor-der beginning in the1980s,the number of foreign-born workers entering the United Statesillegally each year has notdiminished.
 
Pelosi,Cannon,Flake,Kolbe,and Gutierrez.
6
Although none of those proposals madeprogress in 2004,after the elections PresidentBush restated his commitment to achievingimmigration reform in his second term. To lay the groundwork for a reasoned con-sideration of policy options,this studdescribes how the United States got into itscurrent predicament with respect to Mexicanimmigration.It then outlines the sorts of poli-cies that that must be implemented if we are toget out.
Roots of the Current Problem
 The year 1986 was pivotal for the politicaleconomy of North America.Two things hap-pened in that year that signaled the end of oneera and the beginning of another.In Mexico,anew political elite succeeded in overcoming his-torical opposition within the ruling party tosecure the country’s entry into the GeneralAgreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).Building on that initiative,President CarlosSalinas approached the United States in 1988 tomake the economic reforms permanent by forg-ing a continentwide alliance to create a free tradezone stretching from Central America to theArctic,which ultimately resulted in the NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
7
 While trade liberalization took a step for- ward in 1986,labor market mobility took a stepbackward.Even as U.S.officials worked withMexican authorities to integrate NorthAmerican markets for goods,capital,informa-tion,raw materials,and services,they simulta-neously acted to prevent the integration of Mexican and American labor markets.Ratherthan incorporating the movement of workersinto the new free trade agreement,the U.S.gov-ernment sought to unilaterally restrict themovement of workers.To underscore its resolve,in 1986 Congress passed the ImmigrationReform and Control Act,which criminalizedthe hiring of undocumented workers by U.S.employers and increased funding for the U.S.Border Patrol.Then,in 1993,Border Patrolofficials launched Operation Blockade in ElPaso,followed by Operation Gatekeeper in SanDiego.Those operations mobilized massiveresources in two border sectors to preventundocumented border crossings.
8
 Thereafter the United States pursued anincreasingly contradictory set of policies,movingtoward integration while insisting on separation,moving headlong toward the consolidation of allNorth American markets save one:labor.Inorder to maintain the pretense that such selectiveintegration could be achieved and to demon-strate that the border was “under control,”theU.S.government devoted increasing financialand human resources to a show of force along theMexico-U.S.border,a repressive impulse thatonly increased in the wake of September 11.Unfortunately,those measures have not deterredMexicans from coming to the United States orprevented them from settling here.
9
Moving toward Integration
 The adoption of economic reforms inMexico in 1986 accelerated cross-border flowsof all sorts,and those flows increased dramati-cally after NAFTA took effect in 1994.Consider,for example,trends in total tradebetween Mexico and the United States.From1986 to 2003 total trade between the twonations increased by a factor of eight,reaching$235 billion.
10
Over the same period,the num-ber of Mexicans entering the United States onbusiness visas more than tripled,from 128,000to 438,000 annually,while the number of intra-company transferees rose even more rapidly,from 4,300 to 16,000.From just 73 Mexican“treaty investors”in 1986 the number grew exponentially to 4,700 persons in 2003.(Treaty investors manage operations of an enterprise within the United States in which they are anactive investor.)
11
 This growth of trade and business migration was accompanied by an expansion of othercross-border movements.Over the same period,the number of Mexican tourists entering theUnited States increased six-fold to 3.6 million, while the number entering the United States asstudents doubled to 22,500,and the number of educational and cultural exchange visitors morethan doubled,from about 3,000 to 6,600.
12
 The
3
Even as U.S.offi-cials worked withMexican authori-ties to integrateNorth Americanmarkets,they simultaneously acted to preventthe integration of Mexican and American labor markets.

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