Tighter enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border backfired, researchers find

4/20/2016  Princeton University
border patrolThe rapid escalation of border enforcement over the past three decades has backfired as a strategy to control undocumented immigration between Mexico and the United States, according to new research that suggests further militarization of the border is a waste of money.

“Rather than stopping undocumented Mexicans from coming to the U.S., greater enforcement stopped them from going home,” said Douglas Massey, one of the researchers and the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton.

Advocated by bureaucrats, politicians and pundits, the militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico transformed undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of predominantly male workers going to a few states into a settled population of about 11 million in all 50 states, Massey said. From 1986 to 2010, the United States spent $35 billion on border enforcement and the net rate of undocumented population growth doubled, he said.

“By the 1990s border enforcement had become a self-sustaining cycle in which rising apprehensions provided proof of the ongoing ‘illegal invasion’ to justify more resources allocated to border enforcement, which produced more apprehensions, even though the actual number of undocumented migrants seeking entry was not increasing,” Massey said.

The research is detailed in an article, “Why Border Enforcement Backfired,” that was published by the American Journal of Sociology in March. The authors are Massey, Jorge Durand of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica in Mexico City and Karen Pren, project manager of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton’s Office of Population Research.

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