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Illegal Migration From Mexico to the US (Dec 2006)

Illegal Migration From Mexico to the US (Dec 2006)

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869
 Journal of Economic LiteratureVol. XLIV (December 2006), pp. 869–924
Illegal Migration from Mexico tothe United States
G
ORDON
H. H
ANSON
In this paper, I selectively review recent literature on illegal migration from Mexico to the United States. I begin by discussing methods for estimating stocks and flows of  illegal migrants. While there is uncertainty about the size of the unauthorized popu-lation, new data sources make it possible to examine the composition of legal and ille- gal populations and the time-series covariates of illegal labor flows. I then consider  the supply of and demand for illegal migrants. Wage differentials between the UnitedStates and Mexico are hardly a new phenomenon, yet illegal migration from Mexico did not reach high levels until recently. An increase in the relative size of Mexico’s working-age population, greater volatility in U.S.–Mexico relative wages, andchanges in U.S. immigration policies are all candidate explanations for increasinglabor flows from Mexico. Finally, I consider policies that regulate the cross-border  flow of illegal migrants. While U.S. laws mandate that authorities prevent illegal entryand punish firms that hire unauthorized immigrants, these laws are imperfectlyenforced. Lax enforcement may reflect political pressure by employers and other  interests that favor open borders.
University of California, San Diego, and NationalBureau of Economic Research. I thank Roger Gordon andseminar participants at the 2006 AEA meetings, BostonUniversity, MIT, Syracuse University, and Tufts University for helpful comments and Jeff Lin and Maribel Pichardofor excellent research assistance.
1.
Introduction
T
here is increasing interest by academ-ics and policymakers in Mexicanmigration to the United States. Mexico isthe most important source country forU.S. immigration, accounting for 34 per-cent of total immigrant arrivals since 1990.In 2004, the 10.5 million Mexican immi-grants living in the United States were 31
1
Figure 1 reports the total number of Mexican immi-grants in the United States (legal and illegal) as a share of Mexico’s population, the total U.S. population, and the for-eign-born U.S. population.
2
Over the period 1841 to 1860, Ireland accounted for39 percent of U.S. immigration and over the period 1841to 1890, Germany accounted for 30 percent of U.S. immi-gration (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2004).
percent of the U.S. foreign-born populationand equivalent to 10 percent of the totalpopulation of Mexico (see figure 1).
1
TheUnited States has not experienced a concen-trated immigration wave of this magnitudesince the influxes from Germany and Irelandin the mid-nineteenth century.
2
For Mex-ico, the continuing population outflow is
 
870
 Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. XLIV (December 2006)
Figure
1. Mexican Immigrants in the U.S.
196019701980199020000.1.2.30.1.2.3
Share of AllU.S. ImmigrantsShare ofU.S.PopulationShare of MexicanPopulation
3
The one episode that approaches the current outflowis the Mexican Revolution (1911–20). Between 1911 and1925, 680,000 legal immigrants from Mexico (or 5 percentof Mexico’s 1910 population) entered the United States(and were joined by a large number of illegal immigrants).By the late 1920s, many of these individuals had returnedto Mexico. See Lawrence Cardoso (1980) and FernandoAlanis Enciso (1999).
unprecedented.
3
In both countries, thecross-border flow of labor appears to haveaffected the structure of wages, the intrana-tional distribution of population, and thepattern of industrial specialization.Beyond its scale, the distinguishing fea-ture of Mexican immigration is that mostnew arrivals enter the United States illegal-ly. In 2004, there were an estimated 5.9 mil-lion unauthorized Mexican immigrants inthe United States, among a total unautho-rized population of 10.3 million (Jeffrey S.Passel 2005). Thus, 56 percent of Mexicanimmigrants appear to lack permission to bein the country, compared to 17 percent of all other immigrants. Large-scale illegalimmigration in the United States is a rela-tively new phenomenon. It has provokedpolitical debate about whether to providepublic services to illegal immigrants, grantthem status as legal residents, or militarizeU.S. borders to prevent further illegalinflows. In Mexico, migration abroad hashelped ease the country’s adjustment torapid growth in its working-age populationand to macroeconomic shocks, though not without disrupting the families and commu-nities whose members have moved to theUnited States.There is an emerging body of economicresearch on illegal migration from Mexico tothe United States. This literature has beenmade possible by the recent availability of data sources on the cross-border move-ments of legal and illegal Mexican migrants.Also prompting attention is the realizationthat, with unauthorized entrants accountingfor over half of Mexican immigrants andover three tenths of all U.S. immigrants, any 
 
Hanson: Illegal Migration from Mexico to the United States
871
4
For reviews of this literature, see Douglas S. Massey et al. (1994) and Thomas J. Espenshade (1995).
5
The current U.S. immigration quota system wasestablished by the Hart–Cellar Act of 1965 and amendedby the Immigration Act of 1990. The 1990 law set a flexi-ble cap for U.S. legal admissions at 675,000 individuals of  which 480,000 are to be family-based, 140,000 are to beemployment-based, and 55,000 are to be “diversity immi-grants.” Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are not subjectto immigration quotas.
discussion of international migration in theUnited States or Mexico ends up confrontingthe issue of illegality either explicitly orimplicitly.Much of the initial research on unautho-rized labor flows was done by nonecono-mists.
4
The principal themes of this body of  work resemble those in the economics liter-ature on internal migration in developingcountries (see Robert E. B. Lucas 1997;Hillel Rapoport and Frédéric Docquierforthcoming). Early waves of illegal migra-tion from Mexico appear to have originatedin rural areas of the country (Wayne A.Cornelius 1992; Jorge Durand, Massey, andRené Zenteno 2001), involved householdsfinancing the migration of one or moremembers in return for remittances from themigrants (Durand, Emilio A. Parrado, andMassey 1996; Durand et al. 1996), anddepended on family and community net- works that helped migrants enter and findemployment in the United States (Massey etal. 1994; Massey and Kristin E. Espinosa1997).Yet,internalmigrationandillegalinterna-tionalmigrationdifferinimportantrespects. Whilepolicybarriersthatrestrictwithin-countryregionallaborflowsarerare,coun-triesactivelyregulatetheinflowoflaborfromabroad.TheUnitedStatesdeterminestheleveloflegalimmigrationthroughquo-tasonentryvisas,whichchangeinfrequent-lyovertime.
5
Thecountryimplicitlysetsthelevelofillegalimmigrationthroughselect-ingtheintensitywithwhichitenforcesbor-dersagainstillegalentry.Keyissuesforthestudyofillegalmigrationarehowcountrieschoosetheirborderregulationpoliciesand
6
For surveys of this literature, see James P. Smith andBarry Edmonston (1998) and George J. Borjas (1999a,1999b) and for recent work in the area see Borjas (2003)and David Card (2005). For analysis of these issues in thecontext of Mexican immigration, see Smith (2003),Stephen J. Trejo (2003), Francise D. Blau and LawrenceM. Kahn (forthcoming), Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz(forthcoming), Card and Ethan Lewis (forthcoming), andBrian Duncan and Trejo (forthcoming). There is a smallerliterature on the consequences of emigration for Mexico.See Prachi Mishra (forthcoming) and Gordon H. Hanson(forthcoming).
7
Exceptions include Timothy J. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson (2004) and Anna Maria Mayda (2005), whoexamine the correlates of international migration flows. Inresearch on internal migration, there is considerable workon the incentive to migrate. See Michael J. Greenwood(1997) and Lucas (1997) for reviews of the literature.
howprospectivemigrantsrespondtothesepolicies.There is a large literature on U.S. immi-gration, which tends to focus on the labor-market consequences of immigrant inflowsand the economic performance of immi-grants.
6
This body of work examines, amongother questions, whether immigrationreduces wages for U.S. native workers; whether immigrants make relatively greateruse of means-tested entitlement programs;and whether earnings, education, fertility, orother outcomes for immigrants converge tonative levels over time.LargelytakenforgrantedintheU.S.liter-atureis
 why
foreignresidentsmigratetotheUnitedStates.OneobviousreasonisthatU.S.realwagesfarexceedthoseinmanothercountries.Largewagedifferentials,coupledwithbindingandslowlychangingquotasonU.S.legalimmigration,createqueuestoentertheUnitedStates.Givenextendeddelaysinclearingsuchqueues,annualvariationintheleveloflegalimmi-grationappearstobemoreorlessinsensitivetocontemporaneousannualfluctuationsinU.S.orforeignecon-omies.Perhapsasaresult,thequantityofliteratureonthecon-sequencesofU.S.legalimmigrationvastlexceedsthatonitscauses.
7
 With illegal immigration, the determi-nants of migrant flows and the high-frequency variation of these flows have

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