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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Strengthening the Border Leads to More Illegal Residents

What's the best way to reduce illegal immigration? This argues that "far more rigorous enforcement of labor laws on wages, hours and overtime, and of worker safety laws" is the "most promising workplace strategy":

Why strengthening the U.S.-Mexican border leads to more illegal immigration, by Peter Schrag, Commentary, Washington Post: ...[W]ith immigration reform again on the table, President Obama has duly taken up the call for a stronger border. ...
Immigration reform has a long history of unintended consequences: More than two decades of increased enforcement since the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 has done little to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. In fact, it seems to have increased their numbers. ...
Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey pointed out ... that measures to secure the border seemed to produce almost the opposite of what was intended. ... With increasing border enforcement, workers who used to shuttle between jobs in California or Texas and home in Zacatecas or Michoacán simply began to stay put and sent for their families, becoming permanent, if sometimes reluctant, residents. According to Massey, post-IRCA border enforcement may have increased the size of the permanent Mexican population in the United States by a factor of nearly four.
More unintended consequences: The anti-immigrant backlash that sparked Arizona's string of anti-immigration legislation ... was produced in large part by tighter border controls in Texas and California. That enforcement squeezed the smuggling of immigrants and drugs into Arizona's Sonoran Desert and mountains.
As noted by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California among many others, the element missing from this picture is that immigration, both legal and illegal, is driven more by the economy than it is restrained by border enforcement. ...
None of this means giving up on border control, especially if it's focused on drugs and other criminal activities. But if the objective is to reduce ... undocumented workers -- about a third to half of whom, in any case, have overstayed their visas, not crossed the border illegally -- it requires different strategies.
In the past year, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has conducted "silent raids" -- auditing ... employee records... But ... it's hard to imagine that quiet raids will be enough to drive out many of those 11 million illegal immigrants.
Probably the most promising workplace strategy, which has hardly been tried, would be far more rigorous enforcement of labor laws on wages, hours and overtime, and of worker safety laws. That would sharply reduce employer incentives to hire and exploit illegal immigrants. ...
For the long term, immigration scholars ... argue that in order to deter illegal immigration we should shift funding from ever-tighter border control to collaborative efforts to bolster Mexican infrastructure and economic development. ...
Given the world's integrated economy, and the rapidly changing nature of, and constraints on, the nation-state -- think terrorism, or the flow of illegal drugs, or the regulation of multinational corporations, or the Internet, or pollution -- no wall, moat or border patrol will be large or wide or deep enough to fully stop the flow of immigrants.
Trying to tightly seal any border will almost inevitably bring unintended consequences -- in reluctant illegal residents, in increased offshoring of industry and jobs, in cross-border smuggling and crime or, as with Arizona's new immigration law, in a whole new set of foreign policy problems.
"Show me a 50-foot wall," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said when she was governor of Arizona, "and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."

    Posted by on Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 03:33 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (54)


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