Posted by Brad @ 3:09 pm on April 30th 2012

I Love This

It may not help Princeton’s Mexican Migration Project – an ethnographic endeavor dispassionately studying human migration patters from Mexico to America – when the director speculates rather than just points to data. But, aside from reiterating that there is basically no “flood of illegal immigrants” – there is, in fact, no net gain of illegal immigrants at all, and migration rates have been basically level for 60 years – and aside from making clear, yet again, that this is an issue we really shouldn’t care about, at worst, he does mention that illegal migration patterns have indeed changed, somewhat. The same number of people are crossing the border, but while they used to just do it seasonally – pop into Texas, earn some money, pop back home – now, they wind up staying, moving further into the country, and starting their illegal immigrant families. Why? Because crossing the border has become harder. Ha!

What heightened border enforcement did, Massey says, was shift the problem. Unable to cross where they traditionally had — into California and Texas — Mexican migrants instead found new places to cross, particularly making the dangerous Sonoran Desert crossing into Arizona. If they succeeded, they then moved on to other states. Arizonans who complained during the 1990s and early 2000s about a surge in illegal migration were not imagining things. But it was the American government, Massey says, that unwittingly had channeled the flow of migrants into their backyard.

Mexicans had been crossing the Rio Grande ever since it was a border, but migration traditionally was seasonal and cyclical. Young men would head to El Norte in search of agricultural or construction work, earn money, and then return home. But when it became too risky and too expensive to migrate seasonally, migrants simply chose to stay in the United States. Because they no longer were returning home regularly, they could look for work farther from the border. They also settled down and had families, which made them even less likely to leave.

And he does have the causal evidence to back that up.

I often get the feeling that these whipping horses of partisan politics not only don’t serve their stated purposes—indeed, may not even be supposed to—but that they are so far removed from any practical consideration of results that even totally counter-productive results wouldn’t really move the needle. I don’t care how robust a study you might show proving the link between, say, abstinence-only sex education and teen pregnancy and abortion might be, it isn’t really germane to that discussion. Same with immigration. Amnesty and border enforcement are just bad and good respectively with no regards to real-world outcomes. They just ARE.

I also particularly love the notion that, instead of sealing us off from them, we may just be sealing them in with us (“I’m not locked in here with you…”, Rorschach howls…)


  1. Anti-poverty policy would be another example of an area in which the activism is driven by emotion rather than by any demonstrable connection between policy and outcomes.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/30/2012 @ 4:19 pm

  2. I assume you are talking about the church’s anti-poverty work, stressing the importance of lots of babies and suffering. I agree, absolutely counter productive.

    Comment by Jack — 4/30/2012 @ 11:30 pm

  3. I meant the US government, oddly enough.

    Do you disagree?

    Comment by Rojas — 5/1/2012 @ 1:06 am

  4. I was being a smart ass, but I do feel that the Catholic Church’s antipoverty efforts have been horribly counterproductive due to their other contradictory policies. Having said that, I can certainly accept that aspects of US antipoverty policy are emotion driven, but I am not convinced at all that they have been counterproductive overall, merely that they are often inefficient and individual programs are poorly prioritized. We may not be saying too much different.

    Comment by Jack — 5/3/2012 @ 7:44 pm

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