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Build a bigger wall at the border?

Claude Fischer, professor of sociology | April 29, 2016

A key Donald Trump pledge is to stop the inflow of undocumented Mexican immigrants by building a border wall so much higher and wider than the one we have now that none could enter the U.S. illegally. One oddity of this pledge is that the inflow of undocumented Mexicans has already stopped. For the last roughly seven years, the illicit migration across our southern border has been zero or even negative.

There is another oddity about this proposal. From 1986 to 2008, the U.S. vastly boosted border control forces, technology, and barriers. Did this immense crackdown impede or slow down border-crossing? Not really. One thing it did do, however, was to increase – by about 4 million – the number of undocumented migrants who settled down in the U.S.

border wallThat is the conclusion of a comprehensive analysis recently published by Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Karen Pren in the March issue of American Journal of Sociology, titled “Why Border Enforcement Backfired.”

History

Douglas Massey, an eminent sociologist widely recognized for his several major research contributions on critical social issues, has for over 30 years run the Mexican Migration Project. In that period, he and his associates surveyed nearly 24,000 households in 143 Mexican communities about the migration histories of their roughly 150,000 family members. The recent paper takes these data, combines them with various official statistics, and applies sophisticated statistical techniques to answer the question, What happened as the Border Patrol budget rose from under $500 million in the 1980s (measured in 2013 dollars) to nearly $4 billion in the 2010s?

Taking into account all sorts of other changes during those years, such as fluctuating wages in the U.S. and Mexico, violence in Mexico, rising educational levels, and the big drop in the Mexican birth rate–which is the major reason why the migration flow from Mexico has essentially ceased–Massey and colleagues isolated the effects of the 1980s-2000s enforcement boom.

* Beefing up border enforcement by an order of magnitude shifted where the migrants crossed into the U.S. Instead of breaching the border at urban locations such as San Diego and El Paso, they increasingly crossed over in much more remote places like desert areas of Arizona. Given that change, more migrants had to use “coyotes,” paid and not always reliable guides, and had to pay them more–up from about $550 a trip in 1989 to $2700 a trip in 2010.

And more would-be migrants died trying to enter the U.S. Migrant deaths rose from roughly about 100 to about 400 a year. Massey et al. estimate that the border crackdown cost an additional 5,000 lives. For Mexicans who got into the U.S. (which is most of those who tried), the crackdown, which made them more vulnerable and weakened their bargaining positions with employers, reduced the wages they earned in the U.S. Tougher border enforcement also forced the undocumented to work longer in the U.S. in order to earn the money for another roundtrip back to their homes and then back to the U.S. (more on such roundtrips below.)

* The increase in enforcement did increase the chances that migrants would be apprehended by the Border Patrol on their first tries to cross. In the 1970s, about 40 percent got caught in their first efforts, 20 percent were as the crackdown started in the 1980s, and again about 40 percent got caught in the late 2000s.

However, the border crackdown did not affect the chances that migrants would eventually cross after repeated tries. From the 1970s into the 2000s, a bit under 100 percent of family members who tried to enter the U.S. managed to do so. In the late 2000s, the percentage who eventually succeeded fell to about 75 percent, but “by then almost no Mexicans were attempting to cross in the first place.”

* Most critically for those concerned about the swelling population of undocumented residents in the U.S., the escalation of border enforcement reduced the flow of migrants already in the U.S. back to Mexico and then additionally reduced the numbers going back to the U.S. after that first return. Instead, the undocumented stayed on this side.

Earlier, when the border was more sieve-like, Mexicans would enter the U.S. to work during hiring seasons, such as fruit harvesting, and then return home for the off-season. However, “the border buildup prevented a continued high rate of return migration [to Mexico] that otherwise would have occurred….” Instead, migrants remained in the U.S., often arranging for family members to join them; many further settled in by moving north.

Thus, the border buildup “backfired by cutting off a long-standing tradition of migratory circulation and promoting the large-scale settlement of undocumented migrants who otherwise would have kept moving back and forth across the border” – adding what Massey et al. estimate as 4 million people to the undocumented population.

Wall?

So, what about building “a great wall” that “just got ten feet higher“? Basically, it is  irrelevant because, given the drop in Mexican birth rates and the rise in the Mexican economy, there is no influx; “the boom in Mexican migration is likely over.”

However, were things to radically change or were Central American migration through Mexico become a subject of wide concern, a wall (perhaps paid for by Guatemala?) probably would – on the basis of past experience – not stop those determined to enter the U.S., but likely encourage those who do arrive to stay.

Cross-posted from Claude Fischer’s blog, Made in America: Notes on American Life from American History.

Comments to “Build a bigger wall at the border?

  1. I live in a border state. A wall would be a total waste of money and congress knows it. The drugs and the bad illegals do not come into the country OVER the border… they come in UNDER the border, in tunnels. You would only stop the good ones, the worker bees. Trump is a flaming idiot.

    • The great professor also pointed out, of the last roughly seven years, the illicit migration across our southern border has been zero or even negative.

      The Great Professor needs to take a trip to Parker Canyon National Campground in southern Arizona, you can litterally watch the folks sneaking across the desert into America , there is no wall there just an old barbed wire fence. So i guess that sorta shoots a hole in the zero theroy dosen’t it!

      • Nope.
        You have to subtract the number of people who are going the other way (almost always across standard border-crossings). That’s what “net” migration means.

  2. This is a very well-written analysis, in my opinion. Mr. Trump and his supporters are worried about illegal immigration, but indeed, the immigration from Mexico is virtually non-existent right now.

    Building the wall between, let’s say El Paso and Juarez (distance is negligent, about 4 km), will only lead to increased traveling time for legal travelers.

    The real, and more complicated question Trump and his like should tackle is integration or assimilation of those people into U.S. culture. And that opens up a whole other array of questions. Do we support assimilation or integration model? I doubt we would agree to a massive separated or marginalized community. Should it happen naturally or do we need some kind of government agency (yes, re-education camps for dissidents come to mind). But right now the Right pretends that this is not an issue.

  3. I don’t understand how, in this day in age, primary-care physicians aren’t guiding their patients towards other holistic medical alternatives. Perhaps a highly studied regulated cannabis-delivery method, other than addicting opioids like oxycontin, is what our medical researchers need to redirect their focus towards.

    When I watch CNN just two football fields from the international border, as I sell medical marijuana and deliver it legally, right next to federal agents. I have come to the realization that the only problem with Trump’s philosophy is that building a “higher and wider” wall isn’t the solution. I did write about that on blog bankers adda as well.

    Mr. Trump shouldn’t so much focus on building a higher wall, rather Mr. Trump should target the negative impacts of opioid abuse and the use of heroin that flows under and over the walls at our borders. As a candidate who is running for president, Donald should prioritize building a positive understanding by educating our children about heroin and opioid abuse.

  4. What a great factually backed blog! Professor Fischer hits it out of the park and clearly demonstrates why Donald Trump is a silver spoon village idiot.

    My wife of 18 years, once an undocumented immigrant, migrated from Mexico — Cuernavaca, Mexico to be exact. (I have been to Cuernavaca a couple of times. It is beautiful, I don’t know why someone would ever want to leave there. Well that’s besides the point.)

    Professor Fischer quotes Donald Trump saying; he “pledges to stop the inflow of undocumented Mexican immigrants by building a border wall so much higher and wider than the one we have now that none could enter the U.S. illegally”.

    Professor Fischer points out the flaws in Mr. Trumps own words by leading us to the knowledge that if we were to build a “higher and wider” wall, we will merely be a wasting our tax payer dollars. The great professor also pointed out, of the last roughly seven years, the illicit migration across our southern border has been zero or even negative.

    As a San Diego resident and a proud supporter of the Democratic party, and married to a Mexican, one might ask why would someone agree with Donald Trumps bigotry ideology of wanting to build a bigger wall?

    My point of view is simple.

    Mr. Trump has never lived next to a wall. Nor has he associated himself with Latinos; Mr. Trump probably isn’t able to comprehend that the great migration of the 80’s and 90’s has already taken place.

    While Donald is busy ruining world diplomacy, and dreaming about how he’s going to spell TRUMP on a big wall. I am setting witness as a everyday observer in my highly regulated place of business, to the destruction of my community. It is ever apparent we have an epidemic of big dependence of big pharma’s opioid-based medications. As the first legal marijuana dispensary and delivery service owner in San Diego, I have watched patients who are truly seeking pain relief for their medical issues, discuss their dependance, criticizing the side effects of their opioid-based medications.

    I have watched these same patients seek marijuana as a green alternative, merely as a solution to veer from their doctors’ prescribed medications. After speaking with these same patients months later, after they have quit the opioids and participated with ingesting or smoking cannabis as their preferred delivery method. I believe the patients that I have talked to feel less dependent and happy to be rid of the side effects of their prescribed medications.

    I don’t understand how, in this day in age, primary-care physicians aren’t guiding their patients towards other holistic medical alternatives. Perhaps a highly studied regulated cannabis-delivery method, other than addicting opioids like oxycontin, is what our medical researchers need to redirect their focus towards.

    When I watch CNN just two football fields from the international border, as I sell medical marijuana and deliver it legally, right next to federal agents. I have come to the realization that the only problem with Trump’s philosophy is that building a “higher and wider” wall isn’t the solution.

    Mr. Trump shouldn’t so much focus on building a higher wall, rather Mr. Trump should target the negative impacts of opioid abuse and the use of heroin that flows under and over the walls at our borders. As a candidate who is running for president, Donald should prioritize building a positive understanding by educating our children about heroin and opioid abuse.

    Our Center for Disease Control has kept us well informed and spelled it out for us over the years.

    So, Donald, the next time you voice your opinion without any sort of rationality, please at least think of the consequences of your ignorance and perhaps think about taking some undergraduate classes at Berkeley, if they would let you, which I highly doubt.

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